Duane Brandsma | #048 11/23/2020

An intense battle with mental illness took Duane Brandsma away from his family's farm and the work that he had cared so deeply about. Duane gives an inside look into the deeply personal details of what really happened when he says he "cracked," and why he's now speaking out about the mental health crisis among farmers.

Transcript

Macala Wright | #043 10/05/2020

Even with a successful career in fashion, entertainment and marketing in LA, Macala Wright wasn't happy or healthy. She explains how she reached her breaking point, turning to farming and real food to heal her body and mind, and ultimately bringing her life full circle.

Transcript

Kristyn Mensonides | #042 09/28/2020

She could have gone into a career in marketing, but instead Kristyn Mensonides chose to return to her family's dairy farm. In this week's episode, Kristyn gives us a look inside life as a herd manager working with her family and a team of workers to produce milk for a farmer-owned cooperative.

Transcript

Katie Harris | #039 09/07/2020

She's been around dairy farming her whole life, and managed to find a life partner who shares her passion for raising animals and producing milk. Katie Harris gives us a look inside life on a real Washington dairy, and the rollercoaster ride that it can be.

Transcript

Blake Carson | #038 08/31/2020

Although he's just out of college, Blake Carson has been growing food for years alongside his grandpa. Now as he helps other farmers, Blake sees a future with more food grown locally in spite of the challenges.

Transcript

Blake Carson:
I like to see things grow, I like to make food. I swear my whole life revolves around food prep and all that stuff.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
My guest on the podcast this week gives me hope for the future, I guess, of growing food, particularly in Western Washington. You’ll see that he has a passion for helping people grow food. He’s an agronomist right out of college. Blake Carson is his name. He works for Skagit Farmers Supply and he’s worked alongside his grandpa for years helping to grow food. So he has that background, that history, he has the experience to know the big challenges, but he also has the vision for the future where he wants to see food grown here that we don’t necessarily grow here anymore, but he knows that we can because he knows that history from working with his grandpa.

Dillon Honcoop:
Fascinating conversation and really inspiring when you hear that … And Blake is a really soft spoken guy, but he’s super transparent. You can tell this is all very important to him and that he’s thinking about how to make our food system here in our region better. Again, his name is Blake Carson. We had a great chat right in his grandpa’s machine shed. And I know I, for one, really enjoy this conversation this week. My name is Dillon Honcoop. This is the Real Food Real People Podcast, documenting my journeys all over Washington state to get to know the real people behind our food.

Dillon Honcoop:
So when was it that you got into farming because your folks aren’t in farming, right?

Blake Carson:
No, my parents aren’t. So my grandpa, he of course has farmed for quite a while and I started raking hay when I was nine years old. So, little nine year old me was out there jumping the clutch and wearing a cowboy hat raking hay. And yeah, I’d pretty much started right about then.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what kind of farm did your grandpa have at that time?

Blake Carson:
He had just got out of the peas they’d left in Whatcom County and I think … Yeah, so he was doing about a couple 100 acres of hay where he’s selling it to horse people, feeding it to his replacement heifers, and he also did quite a bit of field corn. So that’s where I dipped my feet into doing a little bit of field work with four wheel drive tractors and whatnot.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. What had he farmed over the years though? You said he had done peas in the past, what else had he done back in the day?

Blake Carson:
So years ago, he and his brother they dairied together and they also did peas, sweetcorn, dabble a little bit with some green beans. Then they had their separation and he continued to just do the whole field corn route with other dairies after they quit dairing and just making it work with what he had.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’re nine years old, starting to work on the farm. Do you live in town at that time or what?

Blake Carson:
I lived right down the road from my grandparents farm, so yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay. Well, that made it easy then to be right there?

Blake Carson:
Yep, yep. He’d always come pick me up in his old beer farm truck and I was always excited. I mean, most kids at nine years old, they are pretty excited to go out to the lake or whatever, but I was always itching to get back onto the tractor.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you caught the farming bug early on-

Blake Carson:
Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
… from your grandpa?

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s awesome. So where did you go from there? Because you, I’m assuming, kept helping on the farm right through high school and decided, “I want to be in farming.”

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So I played sports in high school. Towards the end of high school, I started working for a local seed potato farm. I did that springs and summers, falls, I did football. But from there, I decided to go to school at Washington State University. I was going to go be a Coug, go Cougs, and I was going to go do construction management. I saw there was a lot of opportunity for higher wages and a lot of job placement, but after a semester there, I decided just it wasn’t really my thing and I wanted to go back to agriculture. So went and pursued a degree in Agricultural Technology and Production Management, AgTM.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s a program like that teach you? What were you doing in classes with that stuff?

Blake Carson:
It’s basically a wide variety of … you have like science classes, your soil science, your biology or chemistry, and then you have a lot of business classes. I did a business minor as well, but there was a lot of Ag business, stats, economics, and then there was just a bunch of irrigation and hydraulics, electrics, all that stuff. So it was a pretty well rounded education I’d say.

Dillon Honcoop:
So everything on how to farm-

Blake Carson:
Yeah, pretty much.

Dillon Honcoop:
… from whatever perspective? So what was your plan at that point? What did you want to do with that degree when you were still in school?

Blake Carson:
I had no idea. I just wanted to … I don’t know. I thought about, oh, going to work for Simplot or McGregor or something like that through the basin, but I just ended up coming back here to work for Skagit Farmers Supply.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, talk about your job now. You’re an agronomist?

Blake Carson:
Yes, I am.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, what does that mean?

Blake Carson:
So I pretty much am responsible for all of the inputs in a handful of accounts that I have either opened or received. And I just check on their fields and make sure that there’s no disease or pass or anything bothering the yield on the crop, and I just make educated opinions on what kind of fertilizer inputs and chemical inputs that we’re going to use on this particular crop.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what kind of crops are you keeping an eye on right now with the different farmers that you’re working with?

Blake Carson:
So I deal with a lot of potatoes, I deal with field corn, I deal with some seed crops, hay or grass, of course, and then a little bit of pickling cucumbers and green beans, and I guess I’m dabbling into berries right now.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like raspberries, blueberries?

Blake Carson:
Yes, raspberries and blueberries.

Dillon Honcoop:
And Whatcom and Skagit County is your area?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, Whatcom, Skagit, and I have a couple of accounts in the Snohomish.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay, pretty wide area.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I’m all over the place.

Dillon Honcoop:
Driving all over, keeping track of all these farms.

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dillon Honcoop:
Seed crops, what kinds of seed crops?

Blake Carson:
Spinach seed and Swiss chard seed. It’s-

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay, those are probably in Skagit, right?

Blake Carson:
Actually the farmer that I deal with, he’s in Arlington.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay, down South there.

Blake Carson:
Yep. It’s very unique actually seeing the … It’s very high risk, but it can be very rewarding for a lot of these guys.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what’s it like helping to grow this food that people are going to eat? What does that mean to you?

Blake Carson:
Well, being on this side, the Ag consulting side of farming, it’s a whole lot different because you’re working with somebody else’s livelihood and you got to take that into consideration with every decision you make every day. And which brings on a different level of stress because you can get unloaded on for making a mistake and it could be an honest mistake, but you try to minimize those mistakes and try to make a great crop and that everybody will enjoy.

Dillon Honcoop:
A lot of farmers … Everybody knows the farming population is aging, here you’re a young guy. When did you graduate college, by the way?

Blake Carson:
This last December, so 2019.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay, so you’re just fresh out of college?

Blake Carson:
I’m fresh.

Dillon Honcoop:
Have you had to deal with people being like, “Oh, you’re a young buck, what do you know?”

Blake Carson:
Absolutely, there are a lot of people that don’t take me very seriously which, I mean, it’s to be expected. But then, for me, I’ve been able to keep a level head and just navigate through those situations and people notice it. So, I just try to be the best field man, the best all round person that I can be because I don’t want people to hate me or-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Well, is that like that on the job too? I would imagine brand new as an agronomist on this team, I know that team has some people who’ve been doing it for an awful long time and you probably have to feel like you prove yourself there too, right?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I definitely have to prove myself a lot. There’s a few guys, they don’t take me very seriously or, “Oh, he’s the new guy.” Like “Oh, I’m trying my best, man.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, for sure. I don’t know, but what makes more of a difference, your fresh college education or their years of experience? That may lead to different conclusions, right?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, it definitely could. I mean, I’m not sure. I mean, I’m sure they probably think that, “Oh, you went to college, you don’t know anything,” which, I mean, I have learned quite a bit in the past, what is it? Eight months since December, but I’m not sure how to answer that one.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was your first season like? As an agronomist, things are busy in the late spring time when lots of stuff is being planted, then it gets less busy later on, right?

Blake Carson:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was that first rush like keeping on top of everything? And I know it can just be, go, go, go.

Blake Carson:
Well, first off, I actually interned for Skagit last summer, so I had a little taste of what it’s like to be in a field man’s position. I rode with a couple of field men and figured out like, “Okay, this is stressful.” But my first spring, this last spring, it started off in late March because we had a really nice couple of weeks there in late March. So I got a little taste of it. It was nice because we were able to get some of the operations done before it all has to happen at the same time. So it was nice to divvy it out a little bit.

Dillon Honcoop:
For sure.

Blake Carson:
But I mean, there’s a lot of times where I’d be flying down the freeway and “Oh shoot,” I have to pull over and finding an exit and sit there and dilly dally with somebody order or whatever. It’s nice though, my pickup has Bluetooth, so I could just sit there and just take phone calls and … But yeah, it was very hectic.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’re on the phone a lot and then having to pull over and probably get on your phone and deal with emails and orders and websites and all that stuff too?

Blake Carson:
Oh yeah, it’s a whole different world. I didn’t realize that there was so much email and the email really, really takes a toll, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. I think anybody work in a job dealing with lots of email or what it is about it.

Blake Carson:
Oh yeah. Well, it’s funny. It would be a lot easier to have like a group text message if you need to communicate, but for some reason they have to make a group email. I don’t know why, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
Get on those strings, new emails keep popping up, “Yeah, is this something I need to look at or not?”

Blake Carson:
Yeah. You can just call me or text me and it’ll be more effective.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, for sure. So you got through the first season, what are you going to do different next season? What lessons did you learn?

Blake Carson:
I think that I probably need to be a little more organized. I have a lot of learning left to do and there’s a lot of economic principles that you don’t just pick up. You have to have a season or two or three or however many it takes to figure out, this is how this crop reacts to this herbicide or however you got to do it. But I think I have a lot of reading to do this winter. I plan on taking my CCA exam, I think, this February so I can become a certified crop advisor. Just everything that you can do in the off season to be better for the following season.

Dillon Honcoop:
So there’s a lot of science to it?

Blake Carson:
Oh, there certainly is, I mean, just understanding. I listened to Ag PhD a lot on the Apple Podcasts or whatever, and I learned a lot of principles that I just jot down as I’m driving around doing not a whole lot or whenever I’m not on the phone.

Dillon Honcoop:
You said sometimes you just have to deal with people giving you a rationale, “You know what?” Because they didn’t like maybe what you did or said. You had any real bad experiences with that so far?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I’ve had a couple of people give me a couple of nice words and you just got to take the BS, I guess. That’s part of the job. They don’t put that in the job description, but you know it’s there.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think the reason is for that? It’s just because this farming stuff is so high stress?

Blake Carson:
I mean, there’s so much going on at once and there’s money involved, and money just gets people pretty upset. So-

Dillon Honcoop:
Worried about losing money?

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And say an operator makes a mistake, well, you got to take the blame. You’re not going to throw your operator under the bus and-

Dillon Honcoop:
So the people that work for your company who are actually out driving the tractor applying or planting or whatever?

Blake Carson:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So it’s those people you mean by operator may make a mistake?

Blake Carson:
Yeah. So I’m not saying they have, but like if they do make a mistake that you got to take the fall for it as a field man because that’s not fair to your guy that blah, blah, “Oh, my guy did this.” It’s my problem. I got to deal with it, I got to talk to management to figure out, “Okay, how do we resolve this problem with this grower so he isn’t mad at us?”

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. I’ve been that operator back in the day when I was planting corn for a similar operation to what you work for. Yeah, I was the operator and I made a few mistakes.

Blake Carson:
It happens.

Dillon Honcoop:
And the poor agronomist who was in your shoes had to probably go to the farmer and say, “Look, we didn’t quite get this right, maybe he missed a little spot or didn’t put enough fertilizer with.” And that’s stressful because then you feel like, “Ah, here, I’m just …” At that time I was a young guy in college, “I affected this guy’s crop now.” And usually there was a way to fix the problem some way, but it makes you nervous and that does really crank up the stress. I remember some pretty stressful days in the cab of the tractor. I don’t know if you’ve experienced that in the cab of your pickup where some days you’re just, “Ugh,” just feel like you’re in a vice.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, you’re ready to be home.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you get to be out in fields and growing food all the time too. That has to feel pretty awesome.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, it’s a privilege to be able to see all these different cropping systems. I mean working with seed potatoes, you only see one or two cropping systems and that’s the way it is. And you learn a lot. I learned a lot on the seed potato farm and a lot of basic principles about mechanics and all sorts of stuff like that. But being able to see how every different farmer works their ground and how they apply their insecticide and everything about their program, it’s interesting to see how they’re successful or where they could change.

Blake Carson:
And that also gives me opportunity to have an opinion on, “Hey, you might want to look into this,” or you don’t want to say like, “Hey, this is what you need to be doing,” because no farmer wants to hear that. But I’m sure we’re here to make recommendations, that’s what we do.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, “Have you considered this option?”

Blake Carson:
Yes, exactly.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you worked for a seed potato farmer back, what? In high school and college?

Blake Carson:
Yes, I did. I worked for a seed potato farmer for four or five springs and summers in high school and college, which helped me get through college doing those 100 hour weeks.

Dillon Honcoop:
100 hours?

Blake Carson:
Oh, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow. What kind of stuff are you doing for 100 hours in one week?

Blake Carson:
Oh, I’d be doing a lot of field work or planting potatoes or getting irrigation equipment ready. I mean the biggest push for me was always the planting season, but I mean, after that 60 hours a week doing irrigation, 70 hours a week doing irrigation, pulling hose, all sorts of stuff like that, repairs. I mean, that’s always going to happen on a farm, repairs.

Dillon Honcoop:
Constant.

Blake Carson:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Always something breaking.

Blake Carson:
And the hose reel would always eat itself or something like that. Ugh, I don’t miss that too much.

Dillon Honcoop:
And that seed potato farm that you worked for just recently went out of business.

Blake Carson:
Yes, they did.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’d be sad to see.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, it was pretty terrible. I mean, I’m pretty close with them and it’s a shame. I feel terrible.

Dillon Honcoop:
What does that mean with longtime family businesses like that going out, farms calling it quits, not just in seed potatoes, but in other areas? What does that make you think? Here you’re a young guy coming to this farming community, what does that make you think about the future? Are you worried about it?

Blake Carson:
I’m a little bit worried about the population increasing in Western Washington and the cost of land in Western Washington, it’s hard for … If you’re a family business or a family farm and you go out, there’s no getting back into it, really. I mean unless you have a large amount of capital to be able to get back into it these 20, $30,000 an acre pieces of ground, you’re not just going to be able to pull out your pocket. And for the crops that we have here in Whatcom County, I mean, besides corn, it’s going to take a lot of inputs as far as per acre cost.

Dillon Honcoop:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), very expensive too. A lot you need to invest before you start harvesting a crop and trying to make some of that investment back.

Blake Carson:
Exactly, you can’t just go out and throw some potatoes in the ground, then, “Hey, look, I got some seed potatoes.” You got to have the storage, you got to have the equipment, you got to have buyers, you got-

Dillon Honcoop:
As a ballpark, what would you say? What does it cost? What kind of investment does an acre of seed potatoes have into it before they actually realize anything back from it?

Blake Carson:
I don’t know, probably five, $10,000 an acre. I mean, it’s tough out there. And-

Dillon Honcoop:
Which is back to what you were saying about people being stressed and when money is on the line, that’s it too, because they’ve invested a lot already. And then if at some point in that chain before those potatoes are harvested and sold and that money is back in their pocket to pay off some of those investments in debts, if you mess up something in that chain, it’s like, “Whoa.”

Blake Carson:
You’re right.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s intense.

Blake Carson:
And you could just mess up at the end. You get a disease and you put your potatoes in storage, and there goes your storage. I mean, it’s never ending for them until it’s on the truck and gone.

Dillon Honcoop:
You want to do your own farming in the future?

Blake Carson:
I’d like. I mean, it’s tough to see where I’m going to be, but I mean, it’s all I know as it would be nice to be able to at least farm on the side just to have my foot into it and just have fun with it, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Even though all you’re describing doesn’t sound fun at all, it’s sounds stressful.

Blake Carson:
No, no. That sounds very stressful, huh?

Dillon Honcoop:
But apparently there is some fun to it as well.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I think probably part of the pride of calling yourself a farmer and feed people, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. What would you like to grow?

Blake Carson:
I don’t know, I’d like to grow some annual crop. I think that’s what we need here in Whatcom County is an annual crop that doesn’t take as much of it as an investment and sell as a locally produced food because it seems like that’s the way that … with the coronavirus, at least, everybody is looking for a local crop, locally produced food that they can get to. So finding some co-op that could store or process these kinds of locally grown foods would be ideal.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you were saying like grow a crop that isn’t necessarily grown here in Whatcom County now?

Blake Carson:
Right, or it might be grown to an acre or whatever. I’m sure there’s probably crops that an organic guy or hobby farmer might have in their backyard that would be worth looking into for a few other people to grow.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re saying maybe the big guys could learn something from the little guys?

Blake Carson:
Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Do you think farmers feel that or I know there can be some skepticism both ways between really, really small hobby farms and big farms and those in between?

Blake Carson:
I definitely see a big gap between the bigger farms and the smaller farms. And the bigger farms, they got everything going for them and I don’t blame them for wanting to think that way, but being small on a smaller side of the scale, you are always looking for something different, I imagine.

Dillon Honcoop:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), easier to pivot and do something different when you’re small?

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dillon Honcoop:
I’ve always said both sides could learn a lot from each other if they didn’t feel so competitive. And for what reason? Because they aren’t actually competing usually in the same market at all.

Blake Carson:
It’s not apples to apples at all.

Dillon Honcoop:
No. But like you were saying, the big guys could learn a lot from these little guys who are able to try different stuff and figure it out. Little guys could learn from the big guys too, about some of the ways and the efficiencies that they’ve found.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, and marketing [crosstalk 00:23:36]-

Dillon Honcoop:
Because the big guys have to be so efficient to do what they do.

Blake Carson:
They got to have good accountants.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, to keep on top of everything.

Blake Carson:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you could grow a crop, produce local food, maybe something that isn’t already grown here. I don’t know, what would that be like?

Blake Carson:
I don’t know, I always heard about how fun the peas were when the peas were around and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Growing peas, yeah.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, it would be cool.

Dillon Honcoop:
My dad used to grow peas when I was 10.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, my grandpa grew peas as well.

Dillon Honcoop:
So I guess what I was thinking when you were saying, “Well, grow something that isn’t growing here now,” why now? Why isn’t that stuff grown here?

Blake Carson:
Oh, I think everything has to do with marketing. Well, when Twin City Foods left all the … Or I guess there was probably several processors, but I mean the recent one that I knew about was Twin City Foods, and where do you sell your peas? I mean, you could sell sweet corn on the side of the road. That’s going to get you so far, but finding a place to be able to sell your local foods if there was some storage that you’re able to get ahold of or processor or whatever, I think that’s the biggest barrier for a lot of these people wanting to put something in.

Dillon Honcoop:
So there’s just not the processing facilities infrastructure here?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, that’s nothing like the Columbia Basin or Skagit Valley where you just go to Othello or wherever and there’s processor here, processor there, here’s your contract and put it in.

Dillon Honcoop:
So there’s no other reason we couldn’t grow that stuff here?

Blake Carson:
I mean, as far as I know, say, for example, the Skagit Valley, the quality of the green beans, green beans have such higher quality than the ones in the Basin because the cooler nights, they don’t get wind burnt here or down in Skagit Valley. I imagine the sand probably has a lot to do with getting wind burnt. So I’m pretty sure that there are a lot of crops that you could grow here that would probably have a lot higher quality as long as it’s not something like onions that’s going to take probably a lot longer growing days. But yeah, I think that there’s a lot of opportunity for a lot of those crops to come back. I mean, I heard they used to grow up carrots here, they used to grow all sorts of things here in Whatcom County.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, back when they were processing facilities to actually package that stuff up and get it to the consumer. That seems to be the gap, and you’re not the only person that I’m hearing that from.

Blake Carson:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Blake Carson:
That’s a big gap. But I mean, I think that the way that the coronavirus and I mean just as we’ve gone on in the last few years that there’s probably going to be a shift where people do want local food and there’s a great opportunity for Whatcom and Skagit to supply local food to Bellingham, to BC, to Seattle, because there’s a lot of acres around here and a lot of dairies going out.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. You work with any dairy farmers right now? I know that community is under a lot of pressure.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I work with a handful and it’s a very unique … I still don’t understand the whole base thing. I mean, I get it when people want to get out and get a lot of money and wish they wouldn’t have two years ago, but I mean, I think it’s a very complex topic that … I mean, it’s been happening for quite a while here, I mean, how many dairies used to be here 30 years ago? 600 or-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, something like that.

Blake Carson:
Yeah. I mean now there’s probably what? 100, 50, 75 maybe?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, I think somewhere more under 100 now. Yeah.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, yeah. I mean, obviously there’s a lot of consolidation that’s happened, but now it’s not so much consolidation, it’s get out.

Dillon Honcoop:
Get out and the cows go away, they go somewhere else.

Blake Carson:
Yes, no more cows.

Dillon Honcoop:
From all the farmers, dairy farmers, crop farmers that you work with, what’s the biggest pressure that you’re hearing they feel they’re under? What are some of the things that they’re worrying about in the big picture?

Blake Carson:
I hear a lot about water. And-

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the concern with water? What are they worried about?

Blake Carson:
Tribes shutting them off. Hearing about, I mean, the cost of land is increasing, there’s farmland being lost to housing developments. I think that’s all I can really think of right now, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Well, and you know because you work directly with these people weighs pretty heavily on their mind?

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And markets too. I mean, I have a guy that has … he does wheat and straw and I mean, you’re not ever going to make money on wheat here. And I mean, that’s just one of those rotations, but it’s really hard to make money on wheat in Western Washington. We don’t have 4,000 acres with a very low land costs where it makes sense to grow wheat. I mean this 20, $30,000 an acre here and you’re not covering that cost with wheat.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, totally. You mentioned water too. If people lost access to water, what would that mean for farms around here?

Blake Carson:
Like potatoes, I mean, you definitely need water. I mean, there’s some pieces of ground you can get away without watering but you’re not going to get nearly the yield that you want without water. So a lot of guys get shut off, there goes yield potential.

Dillon Honcoop:
Would they be able to just deal with that or pivot and do something else? Or what would happen to those farms?

Blake Carson:
I mean, that’s probably going to impact their yield quite a bit. I mean, we work with a grower here in Whatcom, he uses drip tape and it’s a very efficient use of water. I mean, it costs a lot of money to run that stuff, but who knows? I mean, it might be the way to go for a lot of people.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Well, thankfully we get quite a bit of moisture here.

Blake Carson:
We do. We’re not the Basin for that.

Dillon Honcoop:
And our aquifer is usually only 10 to 20 feet down, so that helps keep the soil at least have a little bit more moisture in it for more of the year.

Blake Carson:
Right. I hear about some of these depths in some of these wells in Eastern Washington and it’s just mind boggling.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, I visited with Case VanderMeulen while back there in Mesa and I think one of his wells is at 1,800 feet down.

Blake Carson:
That’s quite the bill.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s crazy to think about.

Blake Carson:
And how do you pump that far?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, it takes a lot more juice. There’s a lot more investment in the electricity to be able to irrigate than for us who, here in Western Washington, have to pump the water up 20 feet max usually, makes a big difference.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I know. Yeah, you don’t see much more than 20 feet here as far as irrigation wells.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, and we’re blessed with that reservoir. In other areas, they use reservoirs above ground, but here our reservoir is the groundwater.

Blake Carson:
Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
And that has also helped a lot of people take their irrigation off of streams and use this groundwater instead when they’re able to protect stream flows, which is a good thing.

Blake Carson:
Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
How has coronavirus affected your day to day?

Blake Carson:
I’m pretty mobile and I work remotely from my work truck, so I don’t see too many people, I don’t sit in an office with too many people. I actually had the coronavirus back in June.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Blake Carson:
Yeah. So I have no idea where I got it, but yeah, it didn’t affect me too bad.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, well, explain how it went, tell the story.

Blake Carson:
Oh, well I was spraying a grass field of mine in one of my hay fields and a little open station, 2440 John Deere and parked along, and the next day I-

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that this tractor right here?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, that one. Yeah, I didn’t know it was right.

Dillon Honcoop:
I love that, I love that.

Blake Carson:
Yeah. And so next day I had this little tickle in the back of my throat. And so I got towards the end of the week, it was like a Tuesday that I noticed that and it was like Thursday and started to get worse and I figured, “Well, I’ll just go to Skagit Valley College, they have a drive through swab deal or so I’ll just go there to rule the coronavirus out.”

Blake Carson:
And I guess, that Saturday they said, “Oh yeah, you have coronavirus.” “Oh shoot.” Yeah, my girlfriend and I had a quarantine for … Oh, she had to quarantine way longer than I did because it was like, for me, is 10 days after the first symptoms and I just felt under the weather for about a week and I can’t taste or smell anything for two weeks. But other than that, it wasn’t terrible.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why did she have to quarantine longer?

Blake Carson:
Because she could have been exposed to my symptoms because they went on for 10 days [crosstalk 00:33:22]-

Dillon Honcoop:
So did she ever get it?

Blake Carson:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
She didn’t get it?

Blake Carson:
No, and we live together.

Dillon Honcoop:
Hmm, crazy.

Blake Carson:
Maybe she gave it to me, I don’t know. But-

Dillon Honcoop:
But she didn’t show any symptoms, but she had to quarantine longer because in case she did, then it would be that much more delayed?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, so she had a quarantine two weeks past my 10 days. So she was at home for quite a while. She actually started working from home, which worked out, less driving and-

Dillon Honcoop:
What does she do?

Blake Carson:
She actually works at Skagit Farmers Supply too in the credit department.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh really?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, yeah. We met at WSU.

Dillon Honcoop:
Nice. So you work at the same operation as your girlfriend?

Blake Carson:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you don’t actually work together on a daily basis?

Blake Carson:
No, not at all. No, not at all. I asked my boss, “Wouldn’t be weird if she applied?” Because it was actually really hard for her to find a job. Well, she got a degree as Ag economics from WSU and she had a terrible time finding a job. And, was it May? Oh, no, April, because she got let out early because of the coronavirus, and so I asked my boss, “Oh, is it weird if Emily applies?” And he goes, “Oh no, not at all. Okay, whatever.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Perfect, yeah.

Blake Carson:
Yeah?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, he’s got to think, “Oh, is there some conflict or something?”

Blake Carson:
Right, yeah. It wasn’t too bad.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, what does she want to do? She want to be a farmer too?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I think-

Dillon Honcoop:
She just wants to be an Ag economist.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, she-

Dillon Honcoop:
Did she like the actual get in the dirt stuff too?

Blake Carson:
She likes the numbers, but she really likes the baldy calves. She just loves the baldy calves for whatever reason.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why? What’s different about them?

Blake Carson:
I don’t know, I guess they’re cute little buggers.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you guys raise some calves or she does or-

Blake Carson:
Yeah, so my grandpa’s got a whole, I don’t know, 20 head of Angus and yeah, they just calved like a month and a half ago.

Dillon Honcoop:
Explain what’s a baldy calf?

Blake Carson:
Oh, it’s a black Angus with a white face, beyond me, why they get that, I’d forget. But yeah, they just have a white face calling them up like a bald eagle and it’s a bald calf, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right. Is that because they’re crossed with something else or are they still-

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I think so. It has something to do with … I don’t know, to be honest with-

Dillon Honcoop:
I don’t either because I’m not a big animal person as much but I know I’ve been told before.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I would like to-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s why I was hoping you would know.

Blake Carson:
Right. No, no, no. [crosstalk 00:36:03]-

Dillon Honcoop:
But you’re like me. You sound like you’re more of a crop guy like me.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I’m more of a crop guy, but I want to dabble into the cattle a little bit more. I mean, I always help separate the … He used to have like 200 head of replacement heifers here for quite a while, so-

Dillon Honcoop:
Your grandpa?

Blake Carson:
Yeah. So, I’d always help separate and I didn’t necessarily hate the animals, but I just love the tractors.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, yeah. Me too. Totally get that. And I helped my grandparents on their dairy farms, but I wasn’t a cow guy. I was a tractor in field and crop guy.

Blake Carson:
It seems like on most dairy animal type farms, they’re either one or the other from what I’ve noticed.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. And you see a lot of families split up duties that way too where one brother does the field side and the other brother does the cow side or something like that.

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. That works out, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, for sure. So you think you might end up doing some farming yourself?

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re working with other farmers?

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s crazy life.

Blake Carson:
It is, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
Driving all over the place. Why do you love it so much? What keeps you going through those stressful days?

Blake Carson:
Now, I don’t know. I like to see things grow, I like to make food, I think. Between hunting and fishing and growing food, having a garden, I mean, I think I swear my whole life revolves around food prep than all that stuff, but I don’t know, I just like to. It’s beautiful seeing corn grow, it’s beautiful seeing potatoes grow, beautiful seeing them getting harvested, and I guess just the process of the hard work, I think. I attribute 99% of my work ethic to the agriculture lifestyle, so I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thanks for sharing your story and opening up about what you do and why you do it.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, thank you.

Dillon Honcoop:
It takes so many people and it’s cool to see someone like you even just straight out of college being willing to make that jump into it. Because a lot of people right now are saying, “Why would you get into farming? Farming is going downhill.” I hope it isn’t because I think we need to still be growing the food that we eat here.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, people got to eat, man.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. And we need people like you getting in to farming to keep it going for the next generation and beyond.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, it’s tough. I mean, I guess a lot of guys I went to school with in Pullman, there’s a lot of young people, there’s quite a few young farm kids, but as far as Western Washington, it’s hard to find very many young college aged folks that are going to be into farming, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Why do you think that is? Why do people your age coming out of college not want to get into farming?

Blake Carson:
Probably a generational thing. I mean, I think kids not working over the summer and I think you hear about the older generation, they all milk cows in high school and middle school or whatever, and a lot of the kids that I went to high school with or a lot of kids that you see now, they play video games and go swimming, which I get you got to do that here and there, but I feel like getting that early work in and being able to be a part of something like that, I think, keeps that farming around.

Dillon Honcoop:
You learn to value that at a young age, the hard work and then the payoff for putting in that work to see the crop grow even as a young kid to work and discover, hey, you have a few bucks, “I can go buy my own bike,” or-

Blake Carson:
Exactly, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
… that kind of a thing.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, throwing some heavy ryegrass bales into the hay mount when you’re 10 or 12, that teaches you a few things too.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, for sure. And plus it makes you stronger.

Blake Carson:
Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, thanks, Dillon.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast, these are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
With somebody that young, it’s going to be really fun to watch what he accomplishes. And he’s just getting his feet wet right now and learning from a ton of people with a lot of experience. But like he was saying, he wants to do this himself, more than just helping people as an agronomist, advising them on their crops, he wants to grow food himself and he has a vision for the way that it could be different than it is now. So again, I’m really thankful that that Blake was so transparent and open with me about what he’s thinking along those lines.

Dillon Honcoop:
Love these kinds of conversations, this is what I’m all about, that’s what this podcast is all about, is getting to know these real people because there are so many of them in our food system. And elevating their voices, getting to know them helps us get closer to change. Realfoodrealpeople.org is our website where you can get all of the episodes that we’ve done to date. And we’ve got a lot more planned, let me tell you.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m Dillon Honcoop, I grew up on a local red raspberry farm in Whatcom County, so the same place that Blake grew up. And so that’s where we shared some common background. I’m on a journey all over Washington State though, to get to know the Blake Carson’s and so many others out there growing our food. I would really appreciate your support. To be able to keep doing this, we need to expand our reach and bring more people into the conversation. Please share these stories and information about the podcast on your social media if you can, on Facebook or on Instagram or on Twitter, Real Food Real People, or I guess @rfrp_podcast is the handle on our social media channels.

Dillon Honcoop:
Check us out on YouTube as well, we’ll have the full interview that you just heard available to watch so you can see the machine shed, you can see the tractors, you can get a look at some of the great expressions on Blake’s face. Thank you for your support. Thanks for being here again this week on the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Announcer:
The Real Food Real People Podcast is sponsored in part by Save Family Farming, giving a voice to Washington’s farm families, find them online at savefamilyfarming.org, and by Dairy Farmers of Washington, supporting Washington dairy farmers, connecting consumers to agriculture and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at wadairy.org.

Steve Pabody | #035 08/10/2020

A freak incident almost killed Steve Pabody, completely changing his perspective on how he manages his small farm in Ferndale, WA. Hear how he and his wife started Triple Wren Farms with no farming experience, and grew it into a diverse, thriving operation.

Transcript

Dillon Honcoop:
They saved your life.

Steve Pabody:
I think so. I think several times, probably.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
The good news is, those nurses, I told them, I said, “You guys saved my life and I can’t really return the favor, but you get free blueberries for life.”

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
A very scary freak incident almost killed Steve Pabody. He’s our guest this week. He and his wife founded and own Triple Wren Farms in Ferndale, Washington, producing various veggies and some fruit and blueberries and a lot of flowers, dahlias and other flowers. That’s kind of their claim to fame. He came from no farming background and worked his way into being one of the biggest flower producers in the area. He has an incredible story to tell, including that scary episode where he almost lost his life but bounced back, and it’s changed his perspective. So join me in this conversation with Steve Pabody at Triple Wren Farms. I’m Dillon Honcoop. This is the Real Food Real People Podcast, documenting my journeys around Washington State to get to know the real people behind our food.

Steve Pabody:
A friend of mine, his wife’s always posting, right?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Steve Pabody:
So he posted one, a picture on Instagram. She’s a flower farmer as well. He’s looking down. He goes, “This is what my opinion is of all my wife’s photos. Oh, my poor flowers.” I said, “Yeah, that’s spot on, man. Spot on.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Hey, but if it works, if it sells the flowers, right?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. 27,000 Instagram followers, it’s got to be working.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did you guys do that?

Steve Pabody:
We just post pictures of … Well, two things, two things. Number one, we have an amazing flower field and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, as we can see here.

Steve Pabody:
Yes. Yes, yes. And of course, my wife’s photography. But then a lot of what she’s done the last couple years is we’ve just kind of shared our heart. So where she may be learning some personal things or we just navigate some sticky situations, she just shares that. I think that really kind of connects with people, so they get excited about that. But without good photography, I don’t know.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s all about the photography, especially on the ‘Gram.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. On Instagram for sure.

Dillon Honcoop:
I mean, you’re a flower farmer. We’re going to hear all about the farm. But you didn’t start farming, right?

Steve Pabody:
I didn’t.

Dillon Honcoop:
What were you doing professionally before you decided to become a farmer?

Steve Pabody:
I actually went to school for theology.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Steve Pabody:
Yes. And so I worked at some ministries, a Christian camp, and then I was in the pastorate for a little while, and then it was just a brief time where I was between really God’s direction in my life and a friend of mine offered me a chance to babysit their orchard. I told him, I said, “Hey, I don’t know anything about apples. But even worse, I don’t know anything about farming. I don’t know anything about agriculture. I don’t even know anything about business.” So he asked if I would maintain his property and watch over his orchard and run the whole operation. So meanwhile, my wife picked up a book at the library and it says, “How you can be a flower farmer.” She thought, “Oh, that’s awesome.” She showed it to me and I said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m going to run this orchard and we’re going to grow vegetables and be market farmers.” And I didn’t sell a lot of vegetables.

Dillon Honcoop:
So where was this?

Steve Pabody:
It was right in Ferndale. Ferndale, Washington, yep. And so while I was busy trying to figure out how to grow apples and how to keep everything alive, she was reading flower farmer books and it just … I don’t know, I think it kind of ignited something in here where she was like, “Hey, yeah. I always thought it would be cool to grow a lot of flowers and now we can do it profitably.” We sold every stem she grew, and what the rabbits didn’t eat of my vegetables, we composted whatever we couldn’t consume ourselves. And so I knew that that was not the future for me, and so we started growing flowers and it just kind of took off from there. Now obviously-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, how did you get this farm?

Steve Pabody:
Well-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s one of the hardest parts, is to get in to get some ground to grow stuff on, right?

Steve Pabody:
It is. It is. And in the beginning, when we were just watching somebody else’s property and doing this as an experiment, we didn’t really think that we would ever own our own place. So we just started looking around, started talking to farmers here in Whatcom County that know about what ground is good and what’s important. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with farmers and they say, “If I could do it all over again, I would make sure I had 100% water rights.” That’s probably the first thing that everyone tells me. Have water rights. And then know what kind of soil you have. Another smart farmer told me, “You should grow whatever your soil is set up to grow already. Don’t try to grow broccoli in Whatcom County. It’s going to be a tough run.” So-

Dillon Honcoop:
Hey, I hear that it can be done.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, and I know-

Dillon Honcoop:
On the right soil if you can find it.

Steve Pabody:
And there’s some great farmers who do that. But yeah, even in the flower world, there are some flowers that like a thick, heavy soil and there are some flowers that don’t. And so we’re on this beautiful berry soil. It’s got that Lindale loam and that trope loam, and I got a little bit of [inaudible 00:05:37] muck as my property slopes down to the peat bogs over there. But yeah, I don’t do good with flowers that need that thick, heavy, chunky stuff. I do stuff that grow beautiful on this loam. And as you can see, something’s working.

Dillon Honcoop:
They’re doing all right. Something is working.

Steve Pabody:
They’re doing just fine, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So talk about that journey. You get this piece of land at some point and start … What was your philosophy going into this? How much was it just pieced at a time and how much was there an overarching plan of, “This is where we want to get to”?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. The story of how we got it, or … It is an adventure.

Dillon Honcoop:
Either one.

Steve Pabody:
I don’t want to bore you with that, but …

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, either one. No.

Steve Pabody:
Well, I guess-

Dillon Honcoop:
We’re here to hear the details. All the gory details.

Steve Pabody:
Okay. Should I drop names? Do we want that, too?

Dillon Honcoop:
Hey, whatever you feel comfortable with.

Steve Pabody:
I got to be friends with Randy Craft with Barbie’s Berries and very graciously he answered about a billion of my questions like, “Hey, I’m thinking about doing this,” or, “What do you think?” Just even irrigation questions and just general knowledge that I should have had that I didn’t that he and just … Again, I could name probably 30, 40 farmers that have just graciously looked at me like I look at my small children and patiently told them what’s going on.

Steve Pabody:
So when I was talking about land, I knew that I probably should just find some farmers who knew the area and knew what might be available in a couple years or what is a good place to look. Randy said, “Hey, you should look at that property that the USDA is up for foreclosure. They’re auctioning it off and they’re looking for a new farmer, a young farmer to come take it up.” And it just worked out. We got in there right when they were closing it and they did a raffle, almost. And so we still had to pay for it, but we had the ability to-

Dillon Honcoop:
It wasn’t like, $2 ticket and who comes away with the property kind of thing? Not that kind of raffle?

Steve Pabody:
Unfortunately. No, no, no, no. I wish it was that kind of raffle. No. But the have a program where some of their funds are allocated toward new farmers, young farmers, beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers, and if you’ve been farming for more than three years but less than 10 years, you qualify as … You just need some help, generally. And so that’s how we got this property. Then when we got here, we were still at the orchard. We were trying to do both, trying to manage the orchard and trying to manage this, trying to get this up and going. It was a foreclosure, so the property owners kind of took away everything that you would think that … They took the pump and they took a lot of stuff. So anyways, it took a lot longer to redo the house than I was anticipating, and then just to get things in place that I didn’t have and didn’t know exactly what I needed. So again, the great community here at Whatcom County selling me what I needed.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what were you doing to be able to pay the bills at that point? How were you making it go?

Steve Pabody:
After we got this property?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Steve Pabody:
Well, we were selling flowers and hoofing it. I mean, in the very, very beginning, how we started getting an income is I did have my housing and a living because I was managing somebody else’s property. I was living at their place, so just had utilities, basic things. And we just grew flowers and sold them to anybody that would buy them, so that meant driving to florists, talking to grocery stores. And eventually, it just happened that we found a couple of buyers at grocery stores that said, “Oh yeah, we’ll buy your product.” We’d take sample buckets and say, “Hey, look, this is what we can do and we can do it for you.” So they were gracious enough to give us a shot, and then we just started tripling and quadrupling what we were growing every year. And now we have a little bit of extra.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you had kind of a philosophy, though, of sustainability in putting this all together, right?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, I think that in the beginning, it’s a very romantic notion to think that you could just jump into the middle of something that we’ve been doing for hundreds of years and make sense of it, number one. But getting back to the land, growing our own food, growing agricultural products that we’re reselling, the idea was, let’s do that in a way that benefits nature and the world around us instead of takes away from it. And I think there’s so many people now that have just been awakened to a lot of the flip side of that, just making a profit at the cost of everything around you. In the community that I’m in, the agricultural community, I don’t know anybody who thinks that way because that’s just like burning the bridge that you’re walking on, right?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Steve Pabody:
Eventually-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s a good analogy.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. I mean, maybe burning it behind you as you’re walking, maybe, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
But still, that’s stupid and-

Steve Pabody:
Right, and nobody does that. I mean, farmers understand, “Okay, so I’ve got to manage everything. So that means keeping water on my field but doing it efficiently so I’m not spending all the money in infrastructure, electricity, and just wearing everything out.” So it’s all about balancing everything out. “There’s bugs on my vegetable.” Well, nobody really wants to eat vegetables with bugs. They don’t. So you got to do something to keep them off. You can go out and pinch them all off if you want, but that’s going to limit the amount of vegetables you can grow effectively, right? So all of those things, just really understanding how the plant is growing, what it needs, how can you help it.

Steve Pabody:
So sustainability was a thing that we were striving for in the very beginning because there are some family goals that we have and the idea … When the opportunities started to present themselves … I say opportunities because it’s almost like we’ve course corrected every year. We do one thing, it’s working great, and then the customer decides, “Oh, we don’t need those sunflowers anymore.” Okay, now what am I going to do with 1,000 sunflowers a week for five more weeks? Well, better find somebody else to sell them to. When we started scaling up our dahlia operation, we were wholesaling them to another farmer who was then retailing them. And we said, “Great. What’s the limit?” They said, “Oh, there’s no limit. We’re selling out, so as many tubers as you can give us, we will sell.” And then they decided, “You know what? We’re going a different direction,” after we just bought a bunch of tubers.

Steve Pabody:
But, I mean, we’re indebted to Chris and Erin Benzakein out of Mount Vernon with Floret Flower Farm. We’re indebted to them because Chris said, “Well, why don’t you just retail your tubers?” And I said, “Man, we can’t do that. We’re not you. You’re the picture perfect flower farmer.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Everybody knows Floret now. They’ve become such a thing, right?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Well, I mean, Erin posts a picture and a bazillion people say, “Yay, I want to be just like you and own a flower farm,” and so when they decided to stop selling tubers and start breeding their own, I had a bunch of tubers that I was planning on them selling. So Chris says, “Well, you just sell them.” And I was like, “I can’t do that.” We sold them.

Dillon Honcoop:
Nice.

Steve Pabody:
And consequently, we’ve had to triple what we’ve had the last couple of years. We keep tripling every year. This year, I’ve got about 28, 29,000 in the ground. Believe it or not, it’s August and I’m still putting tubers in the ground.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. So I don’t think I’ll triple next year. 100,000 dahlias is too much for me. But yeah, it’s safe to say that we’re in the 30,000 dahlia range, and we’re still selling most everything we can produce.

Dillon Honcoop:
And selling them to who? Just online direct to the consumer, or what?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, yeah. Online is the place where we sell our tubers. And then fresh cut flowers, we sell them everybody in the area. Well, anybody who wants them. Currently, we just packed an order up for Charlie’s Produce, and I was amazed to find out where they’re going. I said, “Where are these things going to end up?” I thought probably a chain in Seattle. She goes, “Actually, these are going to Wyoming.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
I said, “What?” She goes, “Yeah, I’m not sure if these dahlias are going to Jackson Hole, but the last order we did with them went to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.” I’m like, “That is insane.” So closer to home, we sell Whole Foods. Not all of their stores, just about all their Washington stores are using our dahlias. And then the Metropolitan Market, it’s a chain in Seattle. They get our stuff. A couple other chains that sometimes order and sometimes don’t. We’ll just see how the new normal is. We’ll see if we still sell to those or not, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
Nobody knows, really, what’s going to happen next.

Steve Pabody:
No. Yeah. So we’re just trying to stay flexible and get ready to course correct again if we need to. But yeah, that’s where we are now.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s not just dahlias that you grow, though, right?

Steve Pabody:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
You kind of have a whole rotation going.

Steve Pabody:
Yes. We used to grow more variety. But in the beginning, we grew more variety because we would really specifically grow to what our customers would say they need. So when we were selling to small florists, they would really need us to succession plant everything so that they could have sunflowers whenever they needed them, or some of the more ethereal, delicate flowers. So we would grow lots of different kinds of those flowers where one particular flower like a cosmos … I mean, we might grow … In the beginning, now, we might grow five or six different varieties so that we could get the different colors so it would match what they needed. That’s just a lot of variety, a lot of planning. Fortunately, my wife handles all the planning. So that’s what we-

Dillon Honcoop:
Same.

Steve Pabody:
There you go. Very good. So that’s what we did in the beginning, and then we started to find that there was a bit more opportunity for us in the way that our overall goal was to grow more of less varieties. So again in the beginning, 150, 200 different types of stuff. That was insane.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like different types of dahlias, or dahlias and all different kinds of flowers?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Everything. Everything from hellebore starts in the winter to ranunculus, anemone, onto your summer flowers, then your fall flowers.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
At the same time, on rented land, we didn’t do a lot of this but we started to establish some perennials, so we put in some roses and some hydrangeas and some stuff that we knew was a longterm crop. But yeah, now that we’re on our own place, we’re still doing that. We’ve got a couple thousand roses and we put in four new colors this year, so put in the coveted Koko Loko and Distant Drums and Honey Dijon and State of Grace. So those are roses that even a designer can’t always go to the wholesaler and get them because they’re just not as bulletproof as some of the South American roses that are available. And so when we find-

Dillon Honcoop:
So that’s the stuff that’s in the grocery store, kind of all the time, middle of winter? That stuff’s coming from South America?

Steve Pabody:
Middle of winter, probably, yeah. There’s a lot of great farms down there, and I love the fact that as a … Because part of what we do is also we design for events and weddings. Not this year, but we had 60 two years ago, 44 or 45 weddings last year, and this year everybody canceled except two.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
Now, fortunately, some of those that had canceled have actually … They just needed to do really small backyard ceremonies, so we’ll sell them flowers, but it’s not the whole …

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, totally.

Steve Pabody:
… couple thousand dollar flower budget. No, they’re looking for $100 worth of flowers, some, because it’s them and their in-laws.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, exactly.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, but with the roses, the ones that are coming up in the winter, those are … or they’re for sale in the winter … those are very sturdy and they’ve been bred so that they store well and that they ship well and that they last a long time. That’s a little bit different than your grandmother’s roses that you went out there and smelled and just remember her baking cookies and going out and walking through her flower garden, yeah. So those are the kind of roses that we’re growing. I’m thankful for those South American farms that produce flowers when we can’t, but I’m sure willing to put my flowers against them …

Dillon Honcoop:
Nice.

Steve Pabody:
… during season any day of the week.

Dillon Honcoop:
Local.

Steve Pabody:
Local, and-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s where it’s at.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, and it’s just if you’re getting a rose at a grocery store that’s coming from South America, that was picked sometimes a week and a half ago, put in cold storage, kind of like Han Solo from Star Wars, frozen. Not quite, but … And then by the time it gets to the grocery store, a lot of those are going to a distribution center and then it’s taking another day to transit, then it’s coming here. I mean, by the time you get it here, it’s already almost on its last leg.

Dillon Honcoop:
A little different than when people get your flowers. They’re cut the same day.

Steve Pabody:
A lot of times, yep, same day or the day before.

Dillon Honcoop:
Or the day before.

Steve Pabody:
Yep, so we can condition them and get them to you so they’re just in the perfect state.

Dillon Honcoop:
Awesome. Now, you guys grow more than just flowers, though, too, right? You’ve got blueberries, other stuff. What else do you have?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. The addictions, they run deep. We did-

Dillon Honcoop:
Addictions. I like that.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Well, just as kind of a side note, I started keeping bees because we needed bees for the orchard, so I just started talking to the beekeeper who brought them in and I thought, “This is amazing. I love this.” And he goes, “Well, you should buy a couple of hives.” And I’m like, “Okay.” So I bought-

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’re a beekeeper, too.

Steve Pabody:
So I bought three hives and then he’s like, “Well, if they’re healthy and they’re getting lots of nectar, you need to split them and keep them healthy, keep them balanced. You split them.” So I split them, and all of the sudden I had nine hives at the end of the year. Then I had 14 and all the sudden I turned around and I had 37 or 38 hives and I was like, “This is a problem.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Another addiction.

Steve Pabody:
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. So it’s the same way with, hey, I love good food and I love to grow things, and so I’ll start planting some garlic and then next thing you know, I’m like, “I got 600 feet of garlic. What am I going to do with 600 feet of garlic?” So yeah, we got a lot of vegetables and what we kind of pivoted this last year is growing vegetables and just edible flowers so that we could use them for our events. However, our events, all of our night retreats have been canceled.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. All these big plans that a lot of people have had related to events this year, 2020.

Steve Pabody:
Yes. However, we’ve been eating really good here at Triple Wren Farms. These gourmet tomatoes and all the specialty sweet corn. [crosstalk 00:20:42]

Dillon Honcoop:
You have a little you-pick thing going on here, too, right?

Steve Pabody:
I do.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that just for blueberries, or can some of those other veggies go to people that way?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, sometimes we do put other veggies in our farm stand up there. But yeah, when we got the property, it had two and a half acres of blueberries on it, and so I was like-

Dillon Honcoop:
Blueberries take a long time to establish, so hey, they’re already there, a lot of that work’s been done, right?

Steve Pabody:
Right, yeah. So thank you to the person who planted them and maintained them for the last couple of years. But yeah, they’re actually about 30-year-old bushes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh wow.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. So I don’t do hardly anything to them, much to the chagrin of most of the blueberry farmers listening, I would imagine. But yeah, I mow them and try to keep the blackberries out, but I don’t even have a water on them yet. Fortunately, most of them are in really good, thick soil so they can make it through. And this year, we’ve gotten the extra rain. The berries are huge and they’re delicious. So yeah, with minimal effort, we have a phenomenal blueberry for you pick. It’s a great way for people to pick blueberries, spend some time outside of their quarantine area, and then walk through the flower fields. A lot of people love to do that.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many total acres do you have here?

Steve Pabody:
There’s a little over 20.

Dillon Honcoop:
20 acres.

Steve Pabody:
Or in the words of a wise farmer … I said, “I’m looking for about 20 acres.” He goes, “That’s a lot of grass to mow.” Should have listened a little bit more to the wise, sage advice. The more property you get, the more management it’s going to take. So yeah, five acres is looking pretty good right now.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you wouldn’t be able to produce nearly as much product as you do, right?

Steve Pabody:
Well, that’s true. Yeah, there’s about six acres in the flower production. Then I’ve got the blueberries, and I’ve just tilled up another four acres in the back that I’m just trying to put the fertility back in there. For years, the people who were here before me hayed it, and that, done well, is great for your soil. But if you don’t put any nutrition back in, or if you just cut and don’t ever give back … So yeah, I’m in the process of putting some dairy solids. My generous neighbor, Mr. Ed, has got all the-

Dillon Honcoop:
The manure.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. I asked him in the beginning, I said, “Hey, do you mind if I grab some of that press solids?” And he said, “Yeah, I mind if you grab a little. You should take it all.”

Dillon Honcoop:
That sounds like Ed.

Steve Pabody:
He said-

Dillon Honcoop:
I know your neighbor.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I said, “Well, you want me to call and let you guys know that I’m there picking it up? I’ll just drive over and pick it up with my tractor because I’m next door.” And he goes, “Do I want you to call?” “Yeah, so people don’t think I’m stealing.” He goes, “Stealing poop?” He said, “Trust me. Steal all the poop you want.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh man. So you grow food, you grow flowers. Talk about your family. I mean, you guys are kind of doing it all, plus some extra crew that comes in at times for harvesting things, et cetera?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Of course, COVID changed all that. We normally have quite a bigger crew early spring, and then harvesting, there’s … We ship thousands of stems every week, and so we just physically can’t do that with two people. We tried. It’s not possible. So yeah, there’s about a dozen people that are seasonal. A couple of them are closer to full time and this last year, pretty close to year round, but still just a little bit of gap when that COVID hit us. So we had to scale that back, especially with inside, the shipping and the tasks that we had to do that was inside a barn, we couldn’t really socially distance. And so that we just had to do all in house, so it was Team Pabody. But yeah-

Dillon Honcoop:
Work, work, work.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. But during the season, like I said, there’s about … I think we’re at 12, maybe 14 people. And that will drastically be reduced after we get our first frost, because from July til … For us, we get a frost the first week of October, and so from then it’s go time. We’re out in the fields cutting flowers, shipping flowers, and then once we get over that, then the wonderful task of working in the Pacific Northwest, October and November, digging the plants out of the ground, storing them, getting them ready for winter, is a race against that freeze. Frost is one thing. With that freeze comes and if you didn’t get it out of the ground before then, that’s it. Game over.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’ll kill the tuber.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, yeah. Kill the tuber and any of the other plants that you were trying to grab.

Dillon Honcoop:
Now, explain that with dahlias, because that’s kind of your main thing. That’s your claim to fame. You saw the flowers and you saw the tubers. Explain how that works. They’re not like a normal flower that you would grow from seed that people are used to. They have a tuber, kind of like a potato, that’s in the ground and then you save it for the next year. Not really like bulbs. Related I guess, sort of, but-

Steve Pabody:
Perhaps distant cousins. So the dahlia is originally a Central American flower. That’s another reason why we love Central American flower farmers, because they gave us the dahlia. So it was imported to Europe as a food crop, and then, right, next-

Dillon Honcoop:
They ate the tubers?

Steve Pabody:
You can eat the tubers. They’re a little fibrous and they don’t taste as good as those Idaho golds.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, I would imagine.

Steve Pabody:
So quickly, people said, “This is way too much work to get something subpar to a potato, but the flowers are amazing.” So then they started making it to the gardens. I don’t know how long they’ve been really popular. They seem to have recently got a surge, probably in part to Floret, maybe some other big names out there. But when we first started growing them, we were just growing them just for the cuts, and now we grow them for all of the above. We grow them for the cuts, for the tubers, and then we’re doing some breeding, just a little bit.

Steve Pabody:
But yeah, in the spring, around here with this climate, we usually tell people to go for around Mother’s Day, you want to get your tubers in the ground, and then just wait. So it warms up, they start popping out, and they’ll flower all the way until … if they’re cared for. If you keep water on them, keep them fed, and you keep cutting them. Believe it or not, if you stop cutting the dahlias, it doesn’t flower as much because it starts putting seed pods. It signals for the plant that it’s going to reproduce that way. So it’ll reproduce with seeds and it’ll also reproduce with tubers. So while you’re seeing those seed pods up top, it’s producing tubers down below. And what comes out of the seed is not going to be the same flower that formed that seed pod. There’s-

Dillon Honcoop:
Because it’s a cross, right?

Steve Pabody:
Well, yes. And, I don’t know, just the way the dahlia’s made, a seed doesn’t come true. Sometimes it’ll be very close. It’ll have the same color, maybe even the same form factor, but it’s never the same flower. The tubers, however, are exactly the same. So we bring those up, like I said, in October. Dig them up and store them and then divide them and sell some of them and plant some of them and do it all again. Rinse, sleep, repeat. I can’t ever remember how that thing goes, but yeah, we do a lot of that around here.

Dillon Honcoop:
So it’s you and your wife and then you have two kids?

Steve Pabody:
Two kids, yes. Fortunately, my son is getting old enough now that I can put him on the mower and say, “All right, go put in your couple hours of mowing.” And he has joined the harvest crew for some of that. It’s just such a mad rush, because there’s that window where you can harvest the flowers and have a pristine product that once it gets to be about 10:00 in the morning, that window is done.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. We’ve tried starting really early, but with our crew, we generally don’t start before 6:00. So 6:00 to 10:00 is when we’re all hands on deck.

Dillon Honcoop:
Go, go, go, go.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, yeah. And of course, Sarah and I sometimes will be out here as soon as we can start to see, and then take a little break for the heat of the day and just do other stuff, or we weed. That never seems to stop around here. Mow, tie up flowers and get our stuff straightened up, and then in the cool of the evening, a lot of times we’re coming back out to harvest more flowers. So yeah, that’s why we have so many hands on deck, and so my son’s gotten incorporated into that. My daughter cuts flowers, but generally not that we’re going to resell. She loves to design and she’s got four or five arrangements in her bedroom right now, so it’s great.

Dillon Honcoop:
Now, isn’t she part of the name of the farm, too?

Steve Pabody:
She is.

Dillon Honcoop:
Where did Triple Wren come from? Or how did-

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, so, you got to be in the circle of trust to know that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, well.

Steve Pabody:
In the very beginning when we realized, “Hey, this farming, it really is hard work. We got to have a plan. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to have to go all in.” And so we decided, well, what motivation do we need to get out of bed at 5:00 in the morning? Okay, well, we can build something for our kids. Maybe they don’t want to go into agriculture. I’m not sure. But we want to at least give them the opportunity. So our stewardship of the land, our stewardship of our opportunity, all that went into why we initially started doing this, and we thought, “What’s a cool name?” Well, my son is Steven George Pabody, III, so there’s the triple. And my daughter’s name is Chloe Wren, so there’s the Wren. Triple Wren Farms.

Dillon Honcoop:
Got it.

Steve Pabody:
So with any luck-

Dillon Honcoop:
It was named after your children.

Steve Pabody:
It is, yeah. Like I said …

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s cool.

Steve Pabody:
… something’s got to get you out of bed in the morning and keep you going until midnight at night sometimes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, I would say, from what I’ve seen of what you guys do, part of your success has to do with how you’ve branded yourself, too. People recognize who you are. You stand for something. Well, talk about that. How did that come about? I mean, you explained how the name came about. How did you do the branding? How big of a role has that played in how you have put this together?

Steve Pabody:
Well, I think that with the popularity of social media, people are looking for stuff out there that they connect with. Everybody loves flowers. So at the very beginning, we just started really picking up on the need to have good photography of the flowers we grow. I’m always reminded of this, especially here in Whatcom County. There’s some incredible farmers here. There’s some incredible growers of flowers, and I’m surprised nearly every year, I learn of another incredible farmer or incredible grower, but nobody knows about them. The people that know about them have met them or know somebody who knows them, right?

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s why I’m doing this podcast, because I want to go and get to know these people and allow a lot of other people to join in and also get to know them and know their heart for what they’re doing.

Steve Pabody:
That’s a very lofty goal. That’s great. So yeah, we realized very quickly that we needed to present ourselves on social media. And even though most farmers don’t want to take the time to put content up, whether that’s just pictures and a funny picture about what the cow is doing that day, like Erica. She’s doing a great job with this.

Dillon Honcoop:
Erica DeWaard, yeah. Farmer Girl.

Steve Pabody:
Oh, she’s-

Dillon Honcoop:
Episode three of the podcast.

Steve Pabody:
Oh, is she?

Dillon Honcoop:
My third interview …

Steve Pabody:
I-

Dillon Honcoop:
… on Real Food Real People. You can go back in the archives and look at it.

Steve Pabody:
I don’t know if I heard that one.

Dillon Honcoop:
Or listen to it, I guess.

Steve Pabody:
I’ve heard most of yours, but I might have missed that one. So sorry, Erica. I’ll go immediately today and listen to your episode. SO yeah, I mean, just that connection. It really is just giving people a window into what you’re doing. We try not to put pictures of us digging the dahlias in October when everybody’s fingers are numb and it’s nasty outside and you’re just having to find joy from inside to keep-

Dillon Honcoop:
But isn’t that reality?

Steve Pabody:
That is, and we do post those occasionally. But mostly what we post is, “Hey, do this kind of hard labor and look what it’s going to do.” And the flowers and the beautiful side of it, and trying not to gloss over the negatives. Because it doesn’t matter what you do in life. There’s parts of that that you’re not going to like. If I was an accountant, it would be most of that job. But there’s some incredible things about an accountant’s job. I love accountants. So this is the highlight of what we do, is you see the finished product or you get to taste the produce or the blueberries, or you get to have that perfect, warty, twisted pumpkin on your front porch that I grew.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s right, you grow the pumpkins, too, yeah.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, we got a pumpkin patch in the fall. But yeah, if you have the opportunity to come to a farm, you get that window. But then you kind of say, “Hey, remember when we went to Triple Wren Farm and ran to that dahlia festival that they have? I would like to grow some of those here.” And get on our Instagram or go to our webpage and you can see what flowers are available. It’s just off to the races from there.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay. Give us the shameless plug. What’s the web address?

Steve Pabody:
Triplewrenfarms.com.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s easy to remember.

Steve Pabody:
Easy peasy.

Dillon Honcoop:
And-

Steve Pabody:
Farms is plural. That’s the only thing that confuses some people.

Dillon Honcoop:
And @triplewrenfarms, I think, too, is the social media handle.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I don’t know, the auto fill thing will come up.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, yeah, perfect. The Facebook, the Instagram. I’m not really posting on Twitter anymore, but all those other platforms we’re trying to get away from and just focus on a couple of them.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you said earlier to me when we were setting up here, you have a background in IT as well?

Steve Pabody:
Shh, don’t tell anybody that. They’ll call me for their computer problems.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, they’ll call you for their flowers.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I was in IT for a little while and was basically on upgrading systems, so the hardware side of things. Back before the operating systems were so intuitive and you actually had to tell them where to go to access the hardware pieces or to the system boards or to the memory, back when you had to get down and dirty with that stuff. Now you just go buy it from the store, plug it in, and-

Dillon Honcoop:
And it works.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. The wizards that come now are …

Dillon Honcoop:

[inaudible 00:34:28]

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. I saw you messing around trying to get everything to sync up. So yeah, I have a little background in that, but don’t really delve into that too much these days.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s it like dealing with stress on the farm? Because you come from a different background, not from farming, so you’ve experienced stress in different realms, doing IT and doing stuff like dealing with camps and being like a minister, and now farming. They all have their own kinds of stress. How do you compare all those, and what have you learned through that journey how to deal with that?

Steve Pabody:
I’m not quite sure how to answer that. The stresses are different, right? And sometimes it may be a guilty pleasure of mine to just get out in the fields and just weed dahlias or get on the tractor and just mow.

Dillon Honcoop:
Let the stress go, yeah.

Steve Pabody:
Right. When you’re dealing with people, you just have to be a lot more observant because everybody’s problems aren’t the same. Everybody’s recollection of the truth isn’t the same, and so everything’s so different, especially in our climate today. Just so many things to think about and consider, and just to be gracious with. I think that maybe part of the blessing of having those different stress levels is I realize a crop failure is not that big a deal. I mean, it certainly could alter my future. It will alter my future, let me just clarify that. And it may inform what we do next year, but spring is coming. There’s a new season on the horizon. And-

Dillon Honcoop:
You’ve dealt with more stressful things than that in the past, gives you a different perspective.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. People dealing with interpersonal problems or with pressures that are life altering, stakes are so much higher when you’re dealing with that. As opposed to this, we’re going to get another shot next year to do it all again. So-

Dillon Honcoop:
Whether that’s a good or bad thing, it’s going to happen, yeah.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Pros and cons, you put in 10 acres of raspberries and lose those raspberries, it takes you a while to recover. Or some of our longer term crops. If we mess up with those, the stakes are higher. But at the end of the day, we can recover from those. And so with all of the pressures that’s going on and with all of the uncertainty in our society right now, in the world, those are much more monumentous as opposed to, “Where am I going to sell my flowers?” I’m concerned that I can sell all my flowers. And not to backtrack, but all of our planning this last January was for events, overnight retreats. We got these cute little … I say cute like I know what cute means. But according to my wife, it’s this cute little setup. I just look at it as a lot of extra extremity, lights and twinkle lights and lanterns.

Dillon Honcoop:
We won’t tell her that you think that.

Steve Pabody:
Hopefully she won’t listen to this. That’s the key. No, but she spent a lot of time and a lot of effort making them just feel nice and romantic and homey, and you get into these little tents, so that’s what you can do for overnight. And then in conjunction with that, having some different focuses in our workshops or we do farmer training. We had a dahlia camp set up for this year, trying to still pull that off in a different kind of way. And all of that kind of has changed. So those kind of stresses and those kind of pressures are related to what’s going on right now, but yeah, they’re manageable. They’re manageable. Because at the end of the day, you got to get out here, you got to keep your plants alive, manage everything, and then you just look at the flowers, listen to the rooster crow in the background, go out and feed the hogs, feed the animals, everything’s good again.

Dillon Honcoop:
When you made the decision to go into this farming thing, did you go full time with it right away? Or were you still part time, that was a side hustle, and then it-

Steve Pabody:
Yes. For me, it was unusual because somebody asked me to manage their property. So they did that. Again, that covered the land. I didn’t have to make a land payment. I didn’t have to worry about rent because I was living in their house. But I was also working off farm, like I think most farmers actually do. So working off farm, and then the flowers kind of, like I said, started as just an idea my wife had about what to do or just an experiment she was doing that was successful. So then what happened is we kept growing and I would work on it before work and after work. It just got so big so fast that I stopped my off-farm employment and then just jumped in both feet, full steam ahead.

Dillon Honcoop:
Was that scary?

Steve Pabody:
It probably should have been. Again, not paying attention to the sage advice that I was being given. “Don’t quit your day job.” But we just were running into so many opportunities so quickly that it wasn’t that scary because I was … I came to the point to where we had more opportunity than we had product, and so what we needed was to grow more flowers. So once we started doing that, then the income came in, at least for a little while.

Dillon Honcoop:
Have you had a moment where you’re like, “Why did I do this?” Where you’re not sure if you’re going to make it? I know farmers kind of ride that rollercoaster where things are great and then they go through the valleys where things are like, “I’m not sure if this is going to work.”

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, I think most small farmers anyways probably are there every year and they go, “Okay, so we-“

Dillon Honcoop:
Big farmers, believe it or not, too.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Yeah, probably now, especially. I know some dairy guys that are just like, “We gave away more milk in the scariest times than …” Years to recover that. Yeah, so sometimes it’s good to be a small farmer.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Double-edged sword.

Steve Pabody:
Because 2,400 head of milking cows don’t stop producing milk and don’t stop eating.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, you can’t wait and have them produce milk when it’s worth more.

Steve Pabody:
Right, yeah. “We’ll wait until everything gets back to normal and then we’ll start milking again.” Yeah, no, just unfortunately that’s not reality.

Dillon Honcoop:
So with COVID, it sounds like you guys are managing, even though it’s probably hurt the bottom line pretty badly.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Again, I think the thing about farming is not only is there the science of growing and just everything that has to do with that, but there’s also a farmer has to, at some degree, be a entrepreneur or a businessman. I think the key to entrepreneurship is flexibility. Seeing an opportunity, seeing a hole in the market, and filling it. “Nobody grows good sweet corn. Okay, I’m going to grow sweet corn. We don’t have a good beef producer.” And I know we have great producers here in Washington-

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re just saying hypothetical.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, hypothetically. Nobody’s growing ostrich in Whatcom County, so that’s a great thing for somebody to be in if there’s a market for it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, true.

Steve Pabody:
Not really sure that that would be my first choice, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
I thought there was somebody who did that or does that, a [crosstalk 00:41:46]

Steve Pabody:
I probably offended somebody. They’re like, “What? I got all these ostrich.” So if you grow ostrich, let me know. I’ll get some ostrich from you. Yeah, so the aspect of having to shift and to pivot I think is kind of in the whole … That’s what you sign up for. Sometimes [crosstalk 00:42:04]

Dillon Honcoop:
Helps with an annual crop, too. It’s easier than a perennial crop, like you were talking about.

Steve Pabody:
It is. Yeah. And fortunately, we have plenty of annuals, but we have some perennials that kind of … It helps, too, with that. So you get a infestation of something and it knocks out one crop and, “Okay, well, we do still have blueberries. We do still have roses and hydrangeas and all the other stuff.”

Steve Pabody:
But in answer to your question, I think just really trying to filter everything that we know is happening and realizing where the potential is. And then it’s kind of shifting. I got a good friend down in Seattle and his whole business, his whole … And I don’t know how many people he’s got working for him, but he’s a wedding … What does he call himself? He does everything. He’ll do the catering, he’ll do the planning, he’ll do the flowers, he’ll set up the whole venue.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, he’s a little bit amazing, I think. But when this whole thing happened, of course all of his events just said, “Nope, we’re not going to do them.” And so he’s just doing something different until he can do weddings again, because that’s what he really loves to do. He loves to choose the linens and everything, make it just perfect for you. And so in the meantime, he did a pop-up shop. He was doing little arrangements with some accents for your home décor, and I thought, “Man, there’s nothing that guy can’t do.” But he shifted because he obviously wants to take care of his employees and feed his family, and he put too much time and effort into his business to just watch it fly away, so he did something different and it’s working. And he’ll probably … well, not probably. I know he’s anxious to get back into the wedding game.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, for sure. As, I would guess, your wife probably is, too.

Steve Pabody:
Yes. Yes. There’s a little bit of sadness that so many of our weddings canceled and more of them postponed. But again, it just gives us the opportunity to just do something different in the meantime. Pretty convinced that they’re not going to go away. People are still going to get married and they’re still going to want to have a nice spread with flowers. And so I know that’ll come back eventually. It may be different and we’ll pivot in accordance and meet what people need when it starts to run again.

Dillon Honcoop:
Pivot.

Steve Pabody:
Pivot.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s the word of the day.

Steve Pabody:
There you go. I love that word. Probably use it too much.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s been the scariest moment in this whole journey?

Steve Pabody:
Well, you might be referring to my health episode.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, or anything else that … But I know that you almost died at one point.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. According to my nurse, I died several times. He just kept bringing me back.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Steve Pabody:
Well, yeah. I was-

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Steve Pabody:
I didn’t realize this until high school, but I was born with a heart defect and I didn’t discover it until I wanted to go out for football and they said, “You have to have a physical.” And so I did and the doctor said, “Oh, you got a heart murmur,” and I said, “What does that mean?” He goes, “Don’t worry about it. It’s stunted your growth and caused severe mental retardation, but other than that, you’re good.”

Dillon Honcoop:
He actually said that to you?

Steve Pabody:
He did. He was a football doctor, man. So-

Dillon Honcoop:
But he was just trying to rattle your cage?

Steve Pabody:
Football doctors are not known for their bedside manners. As a matter of fact, completely opposite, right? He was a great football doctor.

Dillon Honcoop:
You got to know your audience when you say something like that. I know there are some kids who would be totally crushed.

Steve Pabody:
NBA.

Dillon Honcoop:
But apparently you were okay with it. You got that he was joking.

Steve Pabody:
I understood that, yes. Not the smartest guy in the room, but eventually things trickle down and I do perceive the intended jests. So yeah, I didn’t really worry about it. Then I got to college. After a couple of years, they looked at me again and they said, “This has gotten a lot worse. You should consider having surgery.” And I said, “Okay.” And they said, “Actually, you’re going to have to have surgery eventually because this is not going to resolve itself,” just in the short amount of time that they had done some tests when I was in high school to when I was a junior in college. And so the ironic thing is I left college and I went to a youth camp where I was doing manual labor, and my health increased. I was working hard every day and [crosstalk 00:46:17]

Dillon Honcoop:
So you had been getting checked because your health wasn’t doing well? You were what, fatigued or something?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, there was a flu that went on at the college that I went to and a third of the college got sick with this flu, so I was in the … they had their little on-campus hospital. And they said, “Hey, we hear something weird going on with your heart.” I’m like, “Oh yeah.” I said very arrogantly, “Wow, you’re a pretty good doctor because not everybody catches that heart murmur.” And she says, “Well, my specialty is cardiovascular health, so yeah, I’m going to catch any flutter that you have.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
So when she looked at my echocardiogram, the test that they had done, she said, “I want you to have another one because this sounds significant.” And then thankfully, she said, “No, this is a big deal for you.” So again, we took it really serious and I limited all my physical activity and my health actually started to decline. They gave me a key to the elevator in the student building so I could ride the elevator to the third floor instead of walk up the steps. And I was in the dormitories on the third floor as well, and they moved me to the first floor so I didn’t have to use the steps. And all of that stuff affected me negatively when I stopped doing it. So after college, I went to a youth camp. I maybe a bit naively just through caution to the wind and said, “I’m going to jump here because this is awesome fun.”

Dillon Honcoop:
So you start using your body and you get that energy back.

Steve Pabody:
I did. I did, and I started getting healthy again.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re probably thinking, “I’m fine.”

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, that’s right. “I’m going to walk it off,” right? Isn’t that what all guys say? “Just let me walk it off.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, that’s true.

Steve Pabody:
So that worked for … Well, it’s been a couple years since I’ve been in college, I’ll be honest with you. But now in my 40s and farming, things are going well for a while-

Dillon Honcoop:
So you still hadn’t done anything with it.

Steve Pabody:
No. And I am originally from the East Coast, so I was under a cardiologist’s care there and when I moved out here, I conveniently didn’t find one out here for a couple of years.

Dillon Honcoop:
I see what’s going on.

Steve Pabody:
Much to my wife’s chagrin. Finally, sense prevailed and she convinced me to go to a local cardiologist and they said, “Okay, well, you’re doing manual labor and you look good, so I think we just look at it.” And I said, “Well, you think I can get away from surgery?” My cardiologist is Dr. Tom Oliver and he said, “Oh, no, no, no. You’re going to go under the knife for sure. But you’re the best judge of when we need to do that.” And so just yearly checkups. And then 2017 came around. We got this farm that we’re on in 2016. Didn’t really get settled on it until 2017, but that’s when things really started to kick off and we expanded drastically. But then my health started declining and I didn’t understand, hey, it’s getting harder and harder to do what was already kind of difficult.

Steve Pabody:
Then in 2018, it really started to plummet, and so then we had a surgery scheduled. I went in, went through surgery fine and was actually walking right after surgery, and the doctor told me … My surgeon said, “You’re going to be out of here in a couple of days. This is amazing.” He says, “You’re walking, this is a good sign. Most people, it takes them a good half a week to a week to get out of the hospital after open heart, but yeah, you can maybe … Let’s see if you can do it in three days, four days.” And I’m like, “All right, you’re on.” Then my heart rebelled.

Dillon Honcoop:
This is while you’re still at the hospital?

Steve Pabody:
Yes, fortunately. Fortunately, yeah. I had another day, then I just real lethargic and thinking, “What’s going on?” My heart was beating real fast and then it would slow down and it was having trouble regulating. The surgery was pretty extensive. They replaced my entire aortic root and a couple of valves. While they were in there, they did a couple of other things that are helpful they wouldn’t normally do unless they already have you opened up. But they’re like, “Hey, while you’re open, let’s go ahead and put a clamp here and let’s put a safeguard here.” And so, great. I can’t say enough good things about my cardiologists over at North Cascade Cardiology with PeaceHealth.

Steve Pabody:
But when things started to come to a head, the heart would beat about three times what it was supposed to and then it would drop down. It was dropping down into the 30s and the 20s beats per minute, so if you know anything about your heartbeat, that’s not good. Even for super athletes, 30 beats per minute is too slow. So then it just gave out. Fortunately, my nurse … shout out to Aaron. Thank you very much, Aaron. He kind of foresaw that things were going south fast and so he got me all hooked up to this special machine that-

Dillon Honcoop:
So your heart stopped then while he was hooking you up, or what?

Steve Pabody:
No, he was quicker than that. He-

Dillon Honcoop:
He knew that something was going to happen and that he needed to hook you up.

Steve Pabody:
He said, “I think you don’t need this, but just so that the doctor knows that I’m thinking forward, I’m going to put these things on you.” So he put those pads on me, strapped them on, got me all-

Dillon Honcoop:
He’s probably saying that, but inside he’s like, “This is not looking good with this guy.”

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. He’s probably saying, “I’m about to lose this guy.” So we’re still joking around, having a good time, and I was on, obviously, a lot of …

Dillon Honcoop:
Painkillers.

Steve Pabody:
… opiates, so I was having a good time no matter what. But then, yeah, then it just started dropping, dropping, dropping, and then we got down to 20 beats a minute and he said, “If it goes below this, I’m giving him the needle,” the epinephrine, I think.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
It’s amazing how much of the stuff that you remember when you’re right in the middle of it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Crazy.

Steve Pabody:
Or don’t remember, or refresh. But yeah, he had to give me that shot a couple of times and it didn’t work and then the heart just stopped. So they brought me back and then they put me on that external pacemaker and it kept shocking me when my heart would stop beating, and so-

Dillon Honcoop:
So your heart stopped beating more than once.

Steve Pabody:
Yes. Well, your heart beats how many times a minute, hopefully in the 60s and 70s.

Dillon Honcoop:

[crosstalk 00:52:16]

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And so when it beats slower than that, it’s a problem. But then when it stops beating, it’s a serious problem. So yeah, he put me on that very nice machine that causes a little bit of pain, but the reward is worth it.

Dillon Honcoop:
So basically it’s hooked up to you but it’s like giving you the paddles that you hear about in the ambulance kind of thing.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, just not with a full charge, right, because my heart just needed a little bit of encouragement after they got me going again. Then they immediately took me to surgery and put a pacemaker in to keep that thing going.

Dillon Honcoop:
So how many times did your heart stop?

Steve Pabody:
I don’t know. I know every time it got below a certain amount, that machine took over and gave me a charge, so then it would beat again faster. So I think that’s the main thing, is that thing kept my heart up to where I was getting enough oxygen, so more mental retardation wasn’t kicking in.

Dillon Honcoop:
Crazy. See, that’s like knocking on death’s door, if your heart is continually stopping. What did they find out? How did they fix it?

Steve Pabody:
In the words of my cardiologist, “Sometimes your heart just throws a hissy fit after we go in and touch it.” So, I mean, the medicine … A number of the doctors told me this.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
They said, “We call it practicing medicine for a reason.”

Dillon Honcoop:
No way.

Steve Pabody:
As much as they know, there’s always a loop, there’s always something unexpected. So everything looked like it was going smooth. I thought I was recovering smooth. A small part of me said no. So yeah, I’m thankful for the care I got at the hospital and the extra mile that the nursing staff and the doctors gave me, and here we are, ready to do it again.

Dillon Honcoop:
They saved your life.

Steve Pabody:
I think so. I think several times, probably.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
The good news is, those nurses, I told them, I said, “You guys saved my life and I can’t really return the favor, but you get free blueberries for life. Free flowers for life.” So it’s been a pretty joyful reunion to have some of my nurses come back out here and a couple of my doctors visit me during season and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Amazing.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. I’m able to send them home with honey from my hives, gourds, zucchinis, produce, flowers, blueberries. “Take it. Take it all.” Eggs.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s amazing.

Steve Pabody:
Life is sweet, especially when you almost didn’t have it. So it makes you thankful and it makes the stresses and the plates that you have to juggle almost manageable.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s quite the story. How does that change what your future’s going to look like, what you end up doing next year, 10 years down the road, whatever your plan is with this farm?

Steve Pabody:
Well, the goal is to continue to grow it to where it’s sustainable. Not only the fertility in the soil so that it can sustain more growth and different crops, but on the business side that it’s paying for itself and it gets to a … Our plans are to grow it to where we can have more than one full-time person, or with Sarah and I, more than just a couple of us full time so that we have opportunity to do other stuff.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like take a week off and go on vacation?

Steve Pabody:
Hey, let’s not get crazy here. We do this because we love it. We don’t want to go away from it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Every farmer I talk to on this podcast, “What’s a vacation? What are you talking about?”

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, from midnight to 4:00 in the morning, that’s my vacation every day. I take one every day.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh man.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, and we’re trying real hard to pour ourselves into our kids, and when you are pulling long hours, sometimes that kind of gets out of balance. So having the ability to take a day and do something fun with your kids, or my son is into archery, so I’ve told him for a couple of weeks now, “Hey, let’s build a target, a better stand for you.” So yeah, I’ve got the wood but I haven’t assembled it yet. So getting to a stage to where we’re focusing on what’s really important for our future, for our kids’ future. At the same time, continuing to enjoy the benefit of capitalism. We can build a business that provides for our livelihood and others, and really does something impactful on our community. There’s nowhere else in Whatcom County that you can come and see 30,000 flowering plants that I … Well, excuse me. Let me take that back, because I guess everybody that has vegetables here, they’re always flowering, right? Just maybe not quite as beautiful as the flowers that I have.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing your story and having me out here to the farm. I mean, this is amazing out here. And what you guys are doing is really, really cool. But the story is the best part, that journey that you guys have been on to get where you are. Really, really cool stuff.

Steve Pabody:
Well, thanks. I appreciate you having me on and it’s always good to talk with you.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
It was pretty cool to record that episode surrounded by flowers in the middle of the field. We’re going to work on getting the full video of it up on YouTube. Sure would appreciate if you would subscribe to our YouTube channel as well. Thank you again for being here on the Real Food Real People Podcast and supporting us by sharing our content far and wide to help grow the circle of those of us who are getting to know the real people behind our food. Find us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and of course check out realfoodrealpeople.org.

Announcer:
The Real Food Real People Podcast is sponsored in part by Save Family Farming, giving a voice to Washington’s farm families. Find them online at savefamilyfarming.org. And by Dairy Farmers of Washington, supporting Washington dairy farmers, connecting consumers to agriculture, and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at wadairy.org.

Case VanderMeulen | #034 08/03/2020

He grew up in Europe on a small family dairy, but he now runs a large dairy in Eastern Washington. Meet Case VanderMeulen, and hear his story of growth as he demystifies how large dairy farms really work.

Transcript

Case VanderMeulen:
I grew up in Holland. My family had a dairy farm, but my older brother, he took over the family farm and there was no room for two incomes after the quota system came in in Europe. So I had to go do something different.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Are big dairy farms bad? It’s been a controversial issue for some people, and so I wanted to talk with someone who runs a big dairy farm. He’s also someone who has run a small dairy farm and not just in the United States. Case VanderMeulen, his dairy is Coulee Flats Dairy in Mesa, Washington and he grew up in the Netherlands. This week, he shares his story with us of growing up in Europe on a small family dairy, coming to the U.S. then and starting his own small dairy. And then growing it over the years to a large dairy.

Dillon Honcoop:
We’ll find out exactly how he runs his operation. He gets into a lot of the specific details of how he manages the cows and his employees that keep this whole thing working. Fascinating conversation, lot of cool stuff. Thank you for joining us this week. I’m Dillon Honcoop. This is the Real Food Real People Podcast documenting my continuing journeys around Washington state to get to know the real people producing food here.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why are you so passionate about producing food for people and producing milk and dairy products?

Case VanderMeulen:
Because that’s what I grew up in. I grew up in Holland. My family had a dairy farm, but my older brother, oldest, he took over the family farm and there was no room for two incomes after the quota system came in in Europe. So I had to go do something different. I went on a couple of exchange programs, once to Canada and once to Washington on the West side. Then after a couple of years, later after I come back, I decided I’m going to move to the U.S. permanently because that’s always interested me.

Case VanderMeulen:
So I went and worked in California for a couple of two-and-a-half years, and then started a little dairy farm in Grandview, Washington. It’s a dedication, I guess, it’s just I love it. And once I got going, it’s like, why not? Just keep going and… Because I love it.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you love about it? What’s it like being a dairy farmer? And what are the things that you really love?

Case VanderMeulen:
The growing part and building a system that works really well for treating cows well and treating employees well. So all the pieces fall in place. It never goes by itself, but it’s just like you’re building something, and it turns out nice, and you’re proud. So then you go onto the next thing because it feels good. Second, we have a really… We produce a really good wholesome food from products that the cows can eat and digest, but we humans won’t be able to digest.

Case VanderMeulen:
So cows is definitely what they call upcycling. That really feels good.

Dillon Honcoop:
Talk about how your dairy works. In a way it has to be a system because there’s a lot of people involved, animals, fields, all this stuff has to work together to have milk come out of here at the end of the day. How does it work?

Case VanderMeulen:
It works, start off most important one, take care of the cows. There’s the old saying, “If you take care of the cows, they’ll take care of you.” Because those ladies are like athletes. They produce a lot of milk, and we got to keep them comfortable. When you keep him comfortable, then they will flourish just like humans or all other living beings. Keep them comfortable-

Dillon Honcoop:
How can you tell if a cow is comfortable?

Case VanderMeulen:
When you see her laying out there, chewing her cud or just grunting. That is just a sign that a cow is really comfortable. A cow should be doing one of three things; eat, lay down chew her cud, or be in milked in a parlor delivering her payload, so to speak, if you want to call it that way. So it all revolves around the cows. Cows are creatures of habit, so they like to have everything the same every day, a little bit like humans and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Creatures of routine.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yep, routine. Routine day in, day out, try to make it the same every day.

Dillon Honcoop:
My grandpa was a dairy farmer. Actually, both of my grandpas were dairy farmers.

Case VanderMeulen:
Okay.

Dillon Honcoop:
My dad’s dad, he always said his cows were so stuck on routine that they didn’t even like it if he wore a different hat when he milked them.

Case VanderMeulen:
I never wear a hat, so my girls are a little bit short on that, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, and he was very big on certain music too because-

Case VanderMeulen:
Oh, really?

Dillon Honcoop:
… he liked to listen to classic country-

Case VanderMeulen:
Okay.

Dillon Honcoop:
… especially Hank Williams while he milked. And he claimed that that’s what they liked the best.

Case VanderMeulen:
Okay.

Case VanderMeulen:
It’s an interaction as far as the systems or whatever you want to call it. And dairy is the interaction between people and cows and everything around it. And obviously it takes a lot of equipment to get a lot of cows fed. And of course, the equipment needs to be in good shape, so a lot of maintenance and repairs. Then obviously, those cows eat a lot of feed, so we need to make sure we have lots of feed on hand and all the ingredients, and the place to make sure that we can make the rations for the cows the same every day.

Case VanderMeulen:
Again, creature of habit, she likes it that her food is the same every day. There’s like 10 to 15 different ingredients that we feed to the cows in the rations and we like to keep them proportioned the same every day.

Dillon Honcoop:
What kinds of things are you feeding them?

Case VanderMeulen:
First the foragers. Those are the building blocks, so to speak, because a rumen needs forage. Meaning a forage is a plant-based with fiber. So-

Dillon Honcoop:
And the rumen being the cow’s stomach, that’s what they need for their-

Case VanderMeulen:
To keep the rumen healthy because the rumen actually feeds the cow. Need the forages, corn silage, alfalfa hay, alfalfa silage, triticale silage. Then the grains. Like I said earlier, there’s a lot of feed that we’re feeding to the cows, those are byproducts of other feeds, so to speak like soybean meal. That is what’s left over after they get the oil out of the soybeans. Canola meal, same thing, after they get the oil out of the canola for the canola meal that we cook with.

Case VanderMeulen:
And cotton seed, that’s after to take the cotton off the little seed, and the seed is really, really potent because it’s got a lot of fat in it, and it’s high in protein. And it’s got fiber in it because of some of the lint still on the seed.

Dillon Honcoop:
So the cows like that, those different ingredients?

Case VanderMeulen:
We mix them all together, so it like… We have like big, giant blenders where everything goes in and it comes out mixed. So every bite is the same for every cow every day. The goal.

Dillon Honcoop:
How much do they get to eat?

Case VanderMeulen:
These cows, they eat over 100 pounds of feed per day.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that like something they choose how much they eat or?

Case VanderMeulen:
They can eat as much as they want. We just make sure that it’s there when they come and eat and they can come and go as they please.

Dillon Honcoop:
Then they probably drink a lot of water.

Case VanderMeulen:
And they drink a lot of water, probably about 30 to 50 gallons per cow, per day, somewhere within-

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Case VanderMeulen:
… that range. And that’s actually the most important ingredient. Without it, nothing would happen of course.

Dillon Honcoop:
All this stuff that you feed them, where does that come from? The forages, the grains. I guess you talked about some of these byproducts that would probably what? Otherwise be waste?

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct. Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
But the forage is, do you guys grow that?

Case VanderMeulen:
We grow some of those ourselves, and then also a bunch of my neighboring row crop farmers, I’ll buy feed from them or we’ll grow it ourselves. Then harvest it and store it, and then feed it the rest of the year. That takes a lot of acres to feed all these cows. Then the grains, the byproducts I was talking about, the dry ones like soybean meals come in more from the Midwest, canola meal is coming from Canada, cotton seeds coming from the South or the Southwest, and they all arrive by train.

Case VanderMeulen:
Then from there, they’re going to be hauled on trucks going to the different dairy producers and dairy farms. Then some of the other byproducts I didn’t talk about like potato waste, that goes from the local potato plants after they make French fries. So everything is being utilized and being fed to these cows. So they have the same feed every day, so they can do their thing, so to speak. Meaning produce lots of milk and be comfortable.

Dillon Honcoop:
Basically the cows hang out, eat, and drink and get milked.

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct. Correct. Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
Otherwise they’re just chilling out.

Case VanderMeulen:
They’re chilling out. We milk them three times a day, and then like now, it’s really hot out. We have shade buildings where they can get in the shade, they can get cooled with sprinklers, where they eat. When they come into the parlor, they get sprinkled, so they get nice and wet. It’s just exactly like when you come out of the pool and-

Dillon Honcoop:
The misters are going.

Case VanderMeulen:
And the misters are going, or just out of the pool and you’re wet, then it’s called the evaporative cooling. It’s great.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the milking process? How does that work?

Case VanderMeulen:
All the cows are in groups, and then we bring a whole group into the parlor. Then they get milked, then they get into the parlor, into the milking stalls where they get milked. Then we disinfect the teats, get them prepared, attached to the machine. Then after she’s done milking, the machine will come off automatically. Then we apply more disinfectant on the teats, and then the cows go out, and then go back and eat. Three times a day.

Dillon Honcoop:
Three times a day.

Case VanderMeulen:
And we’re milking 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Dillon Honcoop:
And how long does that process take for the cow? How long are they in there being milked?

Case VanderMeulen:
About 10 minutes per side, so to speak. We have the milking parlors, the one of them is like 50 stalls on each side. So then if it’s 10 minutes, if we do six turns, so to speak, then we milk about 100 cows an hour.

Dillon Honcoop:
So they only have to hang out there for 10, 15, 20 minutes?

Case VanderMeulen:
Yeah. Of course, they’re big groups, so it takes about 30, 40 minutes per group to be… Yeah, about 40 minutes from the time they go into the parlor until that whole pen is done and they all go back to the corral where they can hang out and eat.

Dillon Honcoop:
So at most, the actual milking time for a cow in a given day is 30, 45 minute when you add up the three milkings?

Case VanderMeulen:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
That they’re actually having [crosstalk 00:14:00]-

Case VanderMeulen:
That they’re actually being milked. That’s correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Case VanderMeulen:
Now, the cows in the group that go to the parlor first obviously spend the least amount of time in the parlor or in the building, so to speak. But then the ones last the longest, of course, so altogether three times 40 minutes is two hours basically for the cows who are milked last out of the group.

Dillon Honcoop:
And so that’s it.

Case VanderMeulen:
And that’s it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Dairy farming in a nutshell.

Case VanderMeulen:
And it goes on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

Dillon Honcoop:
The cows can’t really take a day off per se, other than when they’re getting ready to have a calf.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yeah-

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that right?

Case VanderMeulen:
That’s correct. The gestation period for a cow is nine months, pretty much the same as humans, which is interesting. People don’t think about this very much, but a milk cow is pregnant most of her life because it takes nine months. Then if we’d like to have a calf every year, so that means in a year, there’s only three months out of the year that she’s not pregnant. So the cycle is so that calf gets born, it takes about two years to get her full grown.

Case VanderMeulen:
So at about 13 to 14 months of age, we breed them for the first time. And nine months later, they’re going to have their first baby, and that’s when her milking career starts. Then within about two months after she had a calf, she will be bred again and hopefully get pregnant. So then she can have another calf, 12 months later after she had the first one. Then about 45 days before she’s going to have a calf, we actually, what we call, we dry her off. So that means we quit milking her, and that’s her vacation time for a little while.

Case VanderMeulen:
Then she can regenerate, and recoup, and start for the next cycle. That’s just how it goes and every day or so we’ll have 30 to 40 calves a day.

Dillon Honcoop:
What happens to all those calves? What do you do with them?

Case VanderMeulen:
We raise the heifer calves to be the replacements for the cows that leave the facility, because at some point in time, they are getting older, and then they have to have a change of career, so to speak. Then the bull calves, they-

Dillon Honcoop:
So heifer calves being a female-

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
The bulls being the boys.

Case VanderMeulen:
That is correct. That is correct. The bulls, they get picked up… Yeah, always get picked up daily. Then they go to a calf ranch and they’re being raised, and then they’re going to go eventually to a feedlot.

Dillon Honcoop:
So they’re beef.

Case VanderMeulen:
For beef. There’s two products that we produce, is basically milk and beef. Then the heifer calves, the female calves that stay here, we’ll raise them in… They’ll raise them and we’ll have them on milk for two months. Then those calves after two months will then, what we call, they get weaned, meaning we don’t feed them milk anymore.

Case VanderMeulen:
Then they go in different groups. Then as they get older, they’ll get different kinds of feeds to optimize their growth for healthy strong bodies and digestive system so they can be good, healthy mamas for the next generation, so to speak.

Dillon Honcoop:
How different is this whole process than when you grew up in Europe?

Case VanderMeulen:
The basics are the same, but it’s just the scale is so significantly different. At my family farm, they were milking about 100 cows, and those cows would go in the pasture in the summertime. In the winter time, they would be in the barn, so to speak, and we did all the work ourselves. Here with milking several thousand cows, we have to have a lot of employees help us, otherwise we couldn’t get it done.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many employees do you have to make it work?

Case VanderMeulen:
About 85 altogether, full time employees.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
And how many cows do you have?

Case VanderMeulen:
We’re milking about 7,000 cows.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Case VanderMeulen:
Those are the milk cows. Then we have another 800 to 1,000, what we call it the dry cows, the cows that are on vacation, so to speak. Then all the replacement heifers, which is a good all about 12,000 or so.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’ve lived the small dairy life, and now the large dairy life.

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why so big? Some people say, “Oh, it’s better if a farm is small.” What are the differences in having experienced both?

Case VanderMeulen:
Actually, there’s nothing wrong with big dairy farms. Yeah, it maybe seems not attractive for some people, I guess. But actually when you are bigger, you can specialize more the jobs. We have guys that just… They do nothing but milk for eight hours a day. Then we have guys that only feed calves. Then we also have guys that only feed the cows, so it’s very specialized jobs. Therefore you can really train them, train the guys well and they can do a really, really good job.

Case VanderMeulen:
Instead of if you had to have, let’s say you milk 200 cows and you have to have two or three employees. Those three employees needed to do everything and you need to train them on everything. So that makes it a lot more difficult. That doesn’t only count for the employees, but that counts for all systems, so you can really fine tune things much better, and therefore be very, very efficient from a resource perspective.

Case VanderMeulen:
Because we use a lot of resources, water, feed, land of course to grow crops, fertilizer… No, not actually fertilizer, but the manure we use as fertilizer because we utilize everything. We don’t waste nothing.

Dillon Honcoop:
When you were growing up in Europe, what was that like? It’s totally a different culture, right?

Case VanderMeulen:
It’s a very different culture, yes. In Holland, there’s thousands and thousands of smaller dairy farms and yeah, it’s… I’m not quite for sure how to explain it, but it’s just a different way of life. However, that is changing rapidly also. The farms in Holland, in Europe are getting much bigger also. For whatever reason, our expenses keep going up, and up, and up just like everybody experiences around the world. Food gets…

Case VanderMeulen:
But the price that we get for the milk and the beef doesn’t seem to change all that much, not even close to comparative from 15, 20 years ago. So we just need to be more efficient in order to stay relevant.

Dillon Honcoop:
What are the reasons that farms are getting bigger? Is that the same in Europe as here?

Case VanderMeulen:
Absolutely. I don’t know really what the reason is, but in order to increase efficiency. That’s what it comes down to. That’s what our lives as humans today are about. We need to do more things in less time, and technology helps a lot with that. Talking about technology, we use quite a bit technology on dairy farms today in order to do a better, more precise job. Like what use for the last couple two-and-a-half years now, we actually use… All the cows wear basically a Fitbit around their neck.

Case VanderMeulen:
And every cow is being monitored on how active she is every day, it’s counts steps. Somehow it doesn’t really count steps, but it counts activity. If a cow becomes the less active, the system will alert us and try and tell us, “Hey, there may be something wrong with this cow.” Or if she becomes really active, that usually means she’s in heat, she’s ready to be bred. Then the system will alert us also and tell us, “Hey, this cow is possibly in heat, you better go check her.” And if she is, then we can [inaudible 00:24:32].

Dillon Honcoop:
Technology.

Case VanderMeulen:
Technology. And the beauty of technology is it works 24 hours a day to where if you have people watching cows, they don’t have to work for 24 hours a day. And it’s just becoming harder and harder to get good dedicated people, so it’s a challenge sometimes.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the key to leading the team like you do here on the farm, having that many employees and making sure that people are on the same page, and happy with where they’re at? You talked about that being one of the values of the system that you’re building is to be good for the employees.

Case VanderMeulen:
Absolutely. It’s the same for all of us, if we don’t like our job, we don’t like the culture or whatever, it’s not fun coming to work, and when it’s not fun coming to work, you’re not going to do your best. It’s as simple as that. So we have all different teams, so to speak. We have a milking team, we have a calf team. We have a herds people team.

Case VanderMeulen:
The herds people are the guys who take care of the cows as far as when the cows need to be moved from one pen to the other, they need to be bred. They need to be taken care of, just basically general animal husbandry. Then we have a feeding team. We have a team in the mechanic shop that maintains and repairs all the equipment.

Case VanderMeulen:
Then we have equipment team that maintains the pens, helps with harvest, all the different things. And each team has a leader obviously. Then we have office team. Then we have also basically a general manager who… Ricardo, he’s the operation manager and he tries to keep the teams coherent and working together. It’s a challenge, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
When you have that many people, it’s always going to be.

Case VanderMeulen:
That’s right. There’s a lot of training involved, meetings and all this stuff. Then before February, once a month, we’d have a caterer come in and provide lunch for the whole team, and just get together and hang out for an hour. Just trying to keep everybody together on the same team.

Dillon Honcoop:
You said you started the first dairy that was yours was in Grandview.

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was that like? And how did that grow and how did you end up here in Mesa?

Case VanderMeulen:
I started in Grandview, 150 cows, doing all the work myself. Those were long days, long, hard days. Did that for about a year, year-and-a-half. Then I grew a little bit and I got one employee to help me milk the cows. Then a couple of years later, a couple of years after that and we moved to a little bit bigger facilities, so we went to about 400 cows. Then a few years later, we bought another facility. Then in 2007, we started building this facility and start milking cows in 2008.

Case VanderMeulen:
It’s been quite a journey. It’s fun. Lots of challenges, but those are there to be overcome.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was the hardest challenge to overcome to get to where you are now?

Case VanderMeulen:
It’s just like everybody else probably, but the hardest challenge is when the economy has a downturn and expenses are greater than income. That’s always a challenge, right? So then you got to get creative and try to cut costs and try to do the best he can. Yeah, you get through it. Things are, sometimes they’re really good and sometimes they’re not so good, but that just happens and you just got to keep going.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is the way it was growing up too?

Case VanderMeulen:
I believe so. Yeah. Yeah. I know by my parents and my brother, they had some hard times financially, but giving up is just not part of the game, right? You got to keep going.

Dillon Honcoop:
What keeps you going through those hard times? I know people point to different things, it just gives them hope to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yeah. That’s a hard question to answer, but I guess the fear of failure is probably one of the biggest ones. Yeah, that’s about the best I can… the way I can explain it, I think.

Dillon Honcoop:
You said that you were interested in continuing farming, but you couldn’t continue with the family farm-

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
… in the Netherlands.

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why? How did that work out? What was the issue there?

Case VanderMeulen:
Because it takes at that time 75 cows or so, 75 to 100 cows per family, or takes about that amount of cows to maintain income for one family. And they were milking, I don’t know, 120, 130 cows. Then they got a quota system and everybody had to reduce 20 some percent. Then that basically was only room for one. Since my brother was in a partnership with my dad and the idea was that I was supposed to take over my dad’s half, but then when the quota system came in, then that…

Case VanderMeulen:
My dad actually stepped out of the business at that point in time and my brother took it over and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Is he still doing it?

Case VanderMeulen:
My brother does. Yes. Yep, yep. Yeah. He’s milking still about 100 cows.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you guys swap stories back and forth?

Case VanderMeulen:
Oh yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you compare the different [crosstalk 00:31:25]-

Case VanderMeulen:
Yeah, absolutely. He’s been here a few times and yeah, he likes it. He’s got his son involved now and he’s hopefully going to take over his business or his dairy and then we’ll see where it goes.

Dillon Honcoop:
What did your dad think of all of it?

Case VanderMeulen:
My dad thought it was… Obviously, he was pretty sad that there wasn’t a room for both of us on the farm so we could work together. But yeah, yeah, I guess I had never… I never really asked him if… [inaudible 00:32:12] this is what I did and they supported me 100%.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was that like coming to America when you first decided you’re moving there?

Case VanderMeulen:
Exciting. I was in my early 20s, so you have nothing to lose. When you have nothing to lose, it’s easy or somewhat easy. Now, once you start building some stuff up and you have something to lose then things change a little bit. I’ve missed home, but I always kept myself plenty busy, so I didn’t have too much time to think about or be home sick.

Dillon Honcoop:
Have you been back to the Netherlands much?

Case VanderMeulen:
A few times, yeah. I don’t go that often, but yeah, probably about 10 times or so. 10 to 15 times.

Dillon Honcoop:
Talk about your family now. What family do you have and are they involved in the farm at all?

Case VanderMeulen:
Like I said, my oldest brother, he took over the family farm and then I got one other brother and two sisters. But none of them are in farming because there was only room for one on the farm. One of them is in the… Her and her husband are in the restaurant, then my other older sister, she’s retired now, but she did a lot of secretarial work. Then my other brother, he actually had a little accident and he’s somewhat handicapped.

Case VanderMeulen:
That was kind of a bad deal. Not kind of, really bad deal.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. It must’ve been-

Case VanderMeulen:
Yep.

Dillon Honcoop:
… very hard.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yep.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about you have kids or?

Case VanderMeulen:
I have one son. He’s just turned 16 last week, so yeah, what a riot that is.

Dillon Honcoop:
Does he work on the farm at all?

Case VanderMeulen:
Yeah, ever since the school got closed off, he’s been busy here at the dairy. Try to keep him busy and try to keep him out of trouble.

Dillon Honcoop:
Does he like it? I know I had to work on the farm growing up on a farm, so there were some times I liked it and other times I was like, “No, no, no, I don’t want to do this farming thing.”

Case VanderMeulen:
Obviously there’s lots of jobs he doesn’t like, but I think he says he really wants to become a dairy farmer.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, he does?

Case VanderMeulen:
Yeah. So hopefully, but not going to force him of course. It’s all if he wants to or not. But it’s very, very satisfying to see him here helping me on the farm.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think? Could he do it? Could he take it over?

Case VanderMeulen:
Time will tell. Time will tell.

Dillon Honcoop:
Now, it’s interesting to me talking with you, a first generation to America, Dutch person.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
My family is I think, four or more generations removed, but there’s all these stereotypes with the Dutch and the Dutch farmers. You would have a better perspective on that than me. How much of that is an American stereotype versus reality? I’m thinking about you and your son and like I’m used to the Dutch dads being pretty hard on their sons and pushing them, “You got to work hard, and do a good job, and no slacking off.”

Case VanderMeulen:
That’s probably our biggest challenge. Some days he doesn’t like me very much.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’ve been there.

Case VanderMeulen:
But-

Dillon Honcoop:
On the son’s side.

Case VanderMeulen:
As far as stereotypes, I don’t know. On the Western United States, there’s a lot of dairy farmers that are from Dutch heritage, right? So I don’t know really what that means, but apparently the Dutch are pretty good at the dairy business, I think. There’s still a lot of dairies in Holland, so-

Dillon Honcoop:
The history dairy farming in the Netherlands goes back hundreds and-

Case VanderMeulen:
Hundreds of years, yes. Correct. [crosstalk 00:36:42]-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s where it comes from, right? Then it just stays with a culture.

Case VanderMeulen:
That’s right. The little bit of an interesting tidbit is that Holland is a pretty small country. The State of Washington is five times as big as little Holland, as the Netherlands. So it’s interesting that there’s a lot of Dutch all over the world.

Dillon Honcoop:
With Dutch dairy farmers coming out to the West, I’ve always heard, “Well, the Dutch came to the U.S. and then they found the West coast of Washington, and Oregon, and found that climate was similar to back home.” That was certainly the story for my family way back and over time as they ended up there. But you’re here in Eastern Washington, it’s hot and it’s dry, very different climate than back home in the Netherlands for you. Right?

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct. Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
Does that make it more challenging and new, this whole thing?

Case VanderMeulen:
I think you’re spot on that a lot of the Dutch, they liked Western Washington, Western Oregon because of the climate and cows flourished there because not too big of temperature swings. And good feed, and pasture. Now, here in Eastern Washington, we’re here in the Columbia Basin, it does get hot and it does get cold, and we do get snow. But the good thing about it is we only get seven inches of precipitation here.

Case VanderMeulen:
Water is not good for cows, not necessarily the cows themselves don’t like it, but other organisms really like water. Bacteria, and viruses, and all that kind of stuff. They need water. And when it’s dry, you just have a lot less problems. Plus, you don’t have to deal with all the rain water and catch it, and store it. Because we, as dairy farmers or livestock in general, so to speak, we got to contain all our water.

Case VanderMeulen:
Every water that comes in contact with manure, we have to contain, store, and then apply it at agronomical rates to our crops. So we don’t do any groundwater contamination and/or any runoff going into any kind of a drain ditch, or water body, or whatever it is. Very important.

Dillon Honcoop:
What are you do to prevent things like that? How can you make sure that doesn’t happen?

Case VanderMeulen:
I have a facility that is built for it and the water always runs to the lowest spot, right? So we just need to make sure that the lowest spot drains into some kind of a storage structure.

Dillon Honcoop:
And catch it.

Case VanderMeulen:
And catch it. And actually in Eastern Washington here, that’s a good thing because we do need the water for irrigation. So that’s not a bad thing.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, and the stuff that’s in it that could pollute say a stream, if applied correctly to a field can actually be a good thing, a positive because that’s the fertilizer, it’s the organic matter.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yeah. Right here on our farm, we hardly buy any commercial fertilizer. We only use the fertilizer from the manure, from the cows. So therefore it’s kind of… Not kind of, it is the perfect cycle because we’re not buying any commercial fertilizer and we’re not over applying any of the nutrients on the ground. Therefore, self-sustaining.

Dillon Honcoop:
How big is sustainability to your operation and your philosophy?

Case VanderMeulen:
Very big. We live here, we work here, we drink the same water. We live in the same environment. If we would pollute, we only pollute our future. So therefore there is no benefit in polluting, so to speak, if you want to call it that way. So we need to make sure that we continue doing the right thing, not only for ourselves, but also for future generations, and all our neighbors, and friends and family. So it’s a must.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s it been like during this pandemic to keep the farm going? I know a lot of farms have had challenges how to take care of people, how to, but keep… It wouldn’t be right to just let the cows… You can’t stop milking them. You write to them and it would probably cause your operation to crumble if you did that for too long.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yes. That’s the interesting thing about dairy farmer or having livestock. It’s not like a trucking company and said, “There’s no money, I’m just going to park the trucks and send everybody home and we’re done with it.” We can’t just say, “Oh, we’re going to quit milking the cows, we’re going to quit feeding the cows.” That’s inhumane, can’t do it. So rain, shine, good economics, bad economics, we have to keep going.

Case VanderMeulen:
So as far the whole pandemic, we haven’t really had too many hiccups. We’re providing all the safety gear, having do an extra cleaning, and disinfecting, and all that kind of stuff, and trying to do our best on social distancing, but yeah, we haven’t had too many challenges. So quite honestly, for me, my work life, hasn’t changed all that much pre COVID versus now.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about your team? How are the workers feeling about all of it? Are they worried?

Case VanderMeulen:
I don’t know if they’re really worried, but they are aware. They’re very aware and trying to do like I said, we’re a social distancing, and using face masks, and provide them, and temperature checks, and all this stuff. So far we’ve had pretty good luck.

Dillon Honcoop:
What does the future hold for this operation then? You keep growing, do you keep doing what you’re doing? How long do you see yourself staying in this business?

Case VanderMeulen:
Don’t know for sure. That depends a lot on whether my son wants to go take over the farm or not, we have a few more years yet to do that. I love what I do, so I have no need to quit at this point in time. As far as growing, we’re probably not to grow too much more on this facility because all the systems are maximized. Like I was saying earlier, we’re self sustaining, if we milk a lot more cows, then we would get more nutrients.

Case VanderMeulen:
Then we would have to spread our wings more so to speak from… Put those nutrients on more ground. Yeah, that would be. So at this point in time, we’ll probably just going to stay where we’re at. Plus of course, not of course, but to where we’re in our co-op, Dairygold, we have a base system, a quota system like I was talking about in Europe. So you can’t just start shipping more milk because the co-op can’t really handle much more milk right now.

Dillon Honcoop:
So all of your milk goes to that co-operative?

Case VanderMeulen:
That’s correct. I’m a member owner of Dairygold, and yeah, our milk, it’s used for either cheese or butter powder, Sunnyside plant.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s it like being a part of cooperative? How does that work? Does that work pretty well as compared to maybe a different model or a company buying your milk?

Case VanderMeulen:
I can’t really compare because this is the only thing what I’ve done. But obviously the idea from a co-op is that if you have a private processor, the processor would want to try to buy our milk as cheap as possible because… But it’s been pretty good, so the whole idea about a cooperative is that the “profits” that the private handler would make goes in the pockets of the dairy farmers. So that’s the background of it or the purpose.

Dillon Honcoop:
Earlier, you were saying, it’s hard to find good workers and-

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
… those are in short supply. What’s going on there? Why is it hard to find people to join the team? What is the deal with employee? I hear that so much in farming and all different kinds of farming across this state, there’s a workers’ shortage.

Case VanderMeulen:
I think before COVID, I think the biggest reason for that is that the economy was booming, so lots of workers need it. We only have so many, so you can try to pay more to somebody who works somewhere as else and try to recruit them. That operation or whoever where they would have to hire somebody else, so it’s significantly raised our cost of operation when there’s a shortage of people.

Dillon Honcoop:
I know some farm worker unions and stuff say, “Wow, there’s no shortage. There’s plenty of people here. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

Case VanderMeulen:
No, that’s not true. That’s not true. There’s probably maybe plenty of people, but we’ve got to have qualified people. You got to have people that want to do a good job and feel good about their job at the end of the day, and want to be part of the team. Some of those organizations feel that we are not treating our employees well or not paying our employees well. I would beg to differ. There is not one employee here on our facility that makes minimum wage. Everybody makes more than minimum wage.

Case VanderMeulen:
And there is no concern from my perspective that we don’t treat people well because we really try to do our best. It doesn’t mean that it’s always perfect. It doesn’t mean there’s never any controversies or people are always just happy. No, of course not, but we really try hard to get a really good culture on our operation. That’s really what you need.

Dillon Honcoop:
If it’s not true, then why are some groups saying that?

Case VanderMeulen:
It’s all about money. I’m not so sure that labor unions today are really that interested in the wellbeing of the employees, but more about their own organization and having lots of members. It’s questionable in my opinion. Like I said, we don’t mistreat people like some of those organizations are trying to claim. They have a different interest. Not quite sure what, but they have a different interest.

Dillon Honcoop:
What if you reach a point where you can’t get enough people to continue on this operation? Do you see that happening? I guess some people could say, “You can have more people. You just need to pay more. Pay $20 an hour, pay $30 an hour. Whatever it takes, then people will come.”

Case VanderMeulen:
That is probably true. That is probably true, but that isn’t then… High wages is not a guaranteed that they’re going to for one, do a good job or number two, be happy and satisfied in their working environment. Wages is only part of an employee’s wellbeing, so to speak. It’s just the same for all of us, we need to feel good about ourselves at the end of the day.

Case VanderMeulen:
I’m for sure not convinced that money or dollars at the end of the day makes us feel good. Money is a need, but it doesn’t give satisfaction at the end of the day if we don’t like what we do, no matter how much you get paid.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about the operation and like the business, at what point does that become unsustainable to pay more? I would imagine labor costs are a pretty significant part of your overall costs. Aren’t they?

Case VanderMeulen:
Absolutely. As far as expense is concerned or costs, feed is our highest cost, in fact, highest which is usually about 50% of our income. Then labor is the next highest one, which is, let me see, probably about 15% plus. And then we have all the other things. So if the cost of the labor increase significantly, then that becomes a real issue. I guess, what it comes down to is we still need to be competitive from an economic perspective with the rest of the country. Because State of Washington has a pretty high minimum wage to begin with.

Case VanderMeulen:
Like I said, it’s not like we’re paying anybody minimum wage, but if minimum wage goes up, everybody else expects also be ready to go up also, right? It’s just not sustainable keep going up, and up, and up for our business because we need to compete. My milk’s not much different than somebody in Idaho, for example, which has a lower wage brackets, so to speak. My milk’s the same as the cows in New York or in Minnesota.

Case VanderMeulen:
So we need to be competitive, otherwise, the dairy industry in Washington over time will be significantly impacted.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the biggest threat then? Is that the biggest worry about keeping dairy farming happening here in Washington State?

Case VanderMeulen:
I think so. Dairy is the second biggest ag sector in the State of Washington, behind apples. Apples and dairy in years past swaps back and forth on who’s the biggest economic ag sector in the State depending on where prices are. We are a significant financial impact for the State all together. Not that financial impact is the most important thing, but we do keep a whole lot of people working and getting good wages.

Case VanderMeulen:
Not only for the employees themselves, but also all the services around the dairy sector, so to speak. Equipment maintenance, parts of banking, financing, feed, the feed that we purchase. That’s a big economic impact.

Dillon Honcoop:
And that’s going to become more and more important as we go into what sounds like could be a pretty bad time economically here as people are going to be more interested in making sure we keep jobs available for people and people be able to make an income.

Case VanderMeulen:
You would sure think so, but that has not… It doesn’t seem to have an impact just yet. As long as the federal government keeps writing and everybody checks, I guess that’s… But that’s going to have to end at some point in time. Somebody’s got to pay for this. We need to go back to work as a country. My opinion.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thanks for sharing your story.

Case VanderMeulen:
Thank you [crosstalk 00:55:42]-

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s story that’s taking you halfway around the world.

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
Starting in the Netherlands and coming here to Washington State. And it’s pretty inspiring what you’ve been able to do starting just by yourself and growing this company. It’s pretty neat to see.

Case VanderMeulen:
Thank you. I’m obviously very proud of it, but at the same time, not the only one who did this, so yeah. If there’s a will, there is a way, and a will and persistency will win eventually. My opinion.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many hours a day do you have invested into doing this? And I would imagine that’s seven days a week.

Case VanderMeulen:
Oh yes. [crosstalk 00:56:30]-

Dillon Honcoop:
Some days, do you get a day off?

Case VanderMeulen:
I’ll get some days off, but 10 to 12 hours a day minimum, sometimes longer. But as to where the… I don’t do the day-to-day everyday work anymore. My job varies a lot. Meaning there’s hardly ever a day the same because we take care of challenges, and planning, and hopefully trying to look a little bit towards the future and see how we can stay relevant in today’s world because that’s what it’s all about. Right? We got to stay relevant.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thank you for taking time out of that busy schedule. And I hope I didn’t make your day that much longer.

Case VanderMeulen:
No, it was great. I don’t mind sharing my story. In fact, I think it’s important that we speak up and talk about the good things that dairy and ag in general has to offer the world. Not only here, but all through the world.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was fascinating to me about that is what he describes about the actual process that his very large dairy goes through to produce milk, manage the cows, employees, crops. It was very similar and very much in line with what my grandparents did many years ago, running their small family dairies that both of my parents grew up on. So in a lot of ways, this conversation for me demystified the really large dairy and showed me that it’s really what I already understand, just a lot more cows and people involved.

Dillon Honcoop:
So that was reassuring to hear. Thank you for being here on the Real Food Real People Podcast. We really would encourage you to subscribe to make sure you don’t miss an episode every week, and follow us on social media. And if something in this interests you, share it. It really helps us continue to grow this so we can include more and more people in this conversation about our food system and the people behind our food in Washington.

Announcer:
The Real Food Real People Podcast is sponsored in part by Save Family Farming, giving a voice to Washington’s farm families. Find them online at savefamilyfarming.org. And by Dairy Farmers of Washington, supporting Washington dairy farmers, connecting consumers to agriculture, and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at wadairy.org.

Andrew Eddie part 2 | #033 07/27/2020

Hay farmer Andrew Eddie explains how hay is made in Eastern Washington, and reveals a potential opportunity for this state's huge tech community.

Transcript

Andrew Eddie:
You run it as a business, but you’re also trying to keep the idea of being a family of people, even if your employees aren’t family if they worked for you for a long time. We have employees that have worked for us for 10 years. We’re all family at this point.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, I had a career in radio for years and years. And now that I’m back in the farming community, it’s interesting to see the people who really should probably have their own show. And this week’s guest is totally that person. Andrew Eddie, this is part two of our conversation. He’s a conversationalist, a communicator, and if you heard part one with Andrew, he wanted to get away from the farm.

He didn’t want to do the whole farming thing. He wanted to be a journalist, or an advertising, or something like that. Got his degree, but came back to the farm, and realized that he loved the farm, and the farming life, and farming with his dad as a hay farmer in the Moses Lake area, but he still loves communication as well. So, we get into that more this week, we talked about the difference between big farms and small farms.

And we have a really good conversation about technology, and some of the opportunities there. Particularly in this state, where we have such a great tech community, and such a great farming community. And we talk about how the two just need to come together even more than they already have. This is the Real Food Real People podcast.

I’m Dillon Honcoop, a farm kid who after many years working in an office job, came back to the farming community, and I just want to tell their stories. I want to share the stories directly from the real people who grow, and put together the food that we eat here in Washington State.

[Music]

So, take us through the process, just in a nutshell start to finish, how you make hay. For people who aren’t familiar with what hay, because hay is dried grass, or alfalfa, I guess. Alfalfa isn’t technically a grass. It’s what, a legume or something?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, it’s a legume. So of course, we’ll take and we’ll seed it. Water it, fertilize it, get it to grow. Typically, we’ll get it to about a stage where hopefully, get it to a stage where it’s all standing up nice.

Dillon Honcoop:
How tall?

Andrew Eddie:
It depends. Pretty much, you try to get in between bud and bloom stage, for the most part, depending on where you’re going for. And depending on what you want your cutting schedule to be. Because you could state you’re cutting schedule, but it all depends on what works for you. Some guys are 30 days, some guys are 32-day, 35-day, it all depends. But typically, you want it before that bloom stage, because you get a decent test out of it, and stuff like that. So, that’s where that’s at.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you go cut it.

Andrew Eddie:
We go cut it, let it sit there for a couple days, three, four, maybe five days, depends on the weather. And it’s all grower preference to some people, and it all depends on the equipment too. Some guys run sickle headers on their windrowers. Some people run rotary headers with single conditioner, so it only crimps it in one spot.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, actually, crimp the stem of the grass or alfalfa as it goes through?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, yeah. So, of course, since it’s plant, you want it to get all the moisture out of it. So, you’ll take, and you’ll crimp it, and you’ll take, and pretty much squeeze the moisture out of it, and just break it, and do that kind of stuff. Or we even have machines that have double conditioners. So, we’ll take and go through two sets of steel rollers that are chevron shaped. So, it’ll take, and feed it through, and crimp all the stems, and stuff like that.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, it cracks them up a little bit so that the moisture could get out.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, yeah. And it’s all grower preference too, if you want to keep it tight, or if you want to keep it spread out, or anything like that. So, we’ll lay it off flat. On the outside, when you’re looking at a field, and you drive by it, and it’s about ready to be raked, and it’s bleached across the top, and you’re like, “Wow, that stuff looks terrible. What are they doing?” As soon as it’s raked up, it’s nice and green underneath for the most part, depending on how long it sat there.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, more color in the hay, the dry hay, even though it’s dried out, it still has color in it. That shows there’s more nutrients in it for the animals that are going to eat it.

Andrew Eddie:
No. That all depends on the test at the end when you take and do that. But it’s just the thing you want is you want those stems to be dry. When you go to bale, you want those stems to be dry because if they’re not dry and they get in the bale, they’ll start probing say 15% to 20% moisture, 30% moisture, and then you run into heating up. So, it could combust.

Dillon Honcoop:
How does that happen?

Andrew Eddie:
That’s just natural process. Since it’s packed all together, so it’ll start heating up and combusting, start making mold. And then, it will just start creeping all the way out. If it’s baled too wet, it’ll combust. It’s just because it sits there in that heat, not tight-

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s so counterintuitive. You think if it’s wetter, but I know that from when I was a little kid. I remember my grandpa had a barn fire from hay that was baled too wet.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. And that’s the thing. So, typically, for us, we try to shoot for depending on what it is. Grass, we try to get a little drier. So, whether it’s 6% to 8% moisture in the bale, then that’s about right. But there’s ways to tell too. So, with the alfalfa especially, you can sit there and scrape stems, and if it scrapes off in your hand, it’s too wet. So, stem moisture is of course the biggest thing. There’s a difference between stem moisture and dew moisture.
So, stem moisture, you’re probably not going to be able to get stem moisture to dry on the bale. Dew moisture, a little bit depending on how much dew there is. If it’s a heavy dew, if it’s a heavy soaker, it’s like it just took a shower, then it’s probably too wet. If there’s a little bit of dew to help retain those leaves and everything on it, that give the best feed value, then that’s what you shoot for. So, typically, with alfalfa, export percentage is anything 12% or less, then that’s exportable.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, do you want it as dry as possible or is there such thing as too dry?

Andrew Eddie:
Too dry. There’s such a thing as too dry.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why is that bad if hay gets too dry? Because this is all like a curing process, right?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Technically, it’s drying, but also actually locking in the good stuff in the grass for the animal to eat.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. So, if it’s too dry, it’s pretty much just turns into sticks. All the leaves are knocked off of it. There’s nothing to hold leaf on the plant. So, it disappears. You lose that leaf. And so, it’s all just sticky, it seems like straw, same thing. So, you can bale it too dry, for sure. And then, a couple other things is just like we have some tractors pulling in so that’s also exciting.

Dillon Honcoop:
But I think this is the tractor that does the next step in the process that we’re describing here.

Andrew Eddie:
For grass, yeah, yeah. For alfalfa, we’ll typically take, and so once going back to it, once-

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, yeah, we were talking alfalfa, that’s right.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, yeah. We’ll get to grass in a minute, that’s a whole different beast itself. So, typically, it’ll lay there, we’ll rake it up, and put it together, and then take, and bale it, and take the stack wagon, and pick up the bales, and put it on stack in the corner, and hopefully somebody comes and buys it. So, it’s all a challenge, every step of the process is a challenge. Getting it, going and maybe it is a challenge, but also getting it sold is another challenge.
And then grass, that’s a whole different beast. Completely different beast is, alfalfa, I hate to say it because some people don’t like it when I say it, but I’m going to say it anyway. Is the fact that you can neglect alfalfa, and it probably will still turnout decent. Grass, it’ll let you know when you mess up. And even if you look at it wrong, it’ll let you know. You can sit there and be like, “Oh, yeah, that stuff looks good.” The next day you come by and you’d be like, “Oh, never mind, thanks.”

Dillon Honcoop:
So, what happens?

Andrew Eddie:
Grass typically, if you over apply, under apply fertilizer, it’s very responsive to it. So, it’ll brown out, it’ll look sick, lighter color, things like that. Or when you go to bale it, and it happens to be too wet, then you’re hosed there because even with Timothy, so the Timothy plant itself, they’re 18 to 20 inches tall, at least, depending on what variety, and all that stuff.
Plus, growth stage, and when you want to cut it. So, the knuckles on it are what holds the most moisture in the stem. So, if your knuckles aren’t dry, then you’re going to be having a problem. So, you try to get those knuckles as dry as you can, and then bale it up.
And we’ve even seen where especially with grass, you start baling it and you’re like, “Oh, the moisture is good.” It’s like 8% Well, if the stems aren’t completely cured the next day, I guarantee it’ll probe double. It can grow probe 15% to 16% within a day. There’s a sweating process. So, you got to factor in for that.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, what’s the point of making hay whether it’s alfalfa or grass? Why don’t they just feed the green stuff? It’s basically to be able to store it. It’s super old-fashion process, right?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. It’s a storage technique, pretty much, for the transportation. So, you can do silage. You can chop alfalfa, they do it all the time. The problem is you’re hauling a lot of water. It’s not economical to take it to the dairy when you’re paying for a bunch of water. That’s the nice thing about dry hay is you’re paying for actual feedable product. You’re not paying for water that you’re never going to use.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, then I’ve had it explained to me even here on this podcast, we were talking with Larry Stap, a dairy farmer back in Western Washington. And he talks about people asking whether or not his cows are grass fed, and he says, “Well, sure they are, but what do you think we feed them in the wintertime when they can’t be out eating grass in the field, and it’s just mud, and rain or snow?” Well, that’s hay or silage.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. Well, and that’s the thing is like it’s a product that could be used at any time. That’s the nice thing is, plus, the other thing is, if we just chopped it, we have a limit on our customers. So, that’s the nice thing-

Dillon Honcoop:
But you can’t ship it across the globe that way?

Andrew Eddie:
Well, you could, you’re just not going to make anything, and you’re probably not going to want it, and pay what you want. It’s not going to be feasible. So, there’s always possibility for everything, but it’s not completely feasible in an economic sense.
The nice thing about, especially here in Eastern Washington is the fact that we can take and stack it up in a corner, stack in a stack yard, put a tarp over the top. Say eight month later, when snow starts flying, they can come grab it. Guess what? It still has the same feed value as it did within a few little caveats, but it’s the same no matter what.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you love it, farming?

Andrew Eddie:
Farming?

Dillon Honcoop:
Making hay?

Andrew Eddie:
I enjoy it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Handling the weather?

Andrew Eddie:
I enjoy it. I think I’ve diversified, not really diversified. I’ve got a bunch of different fish in the fryer so to speak. So, I like it because I can actually show, especially through social media, and then just stuff I’m doing every day. I can show what I’m doing. I can show the interesting side of farming. I can show what we do and what I find interesting.
Even like I stated in that video, and I’ve talked to a couple other people on social media, they’re like, “I don’t know what to post. What do I show? Everything I show is boring.” And I go, “It’s boring to you, because you do it every day.” But it’s probably not boring to somebody else, or the other things it does, it does one of two things. It shows, “Hey, wow, that’s cool. I never knew that. I want to learn more.”
Or B, “Hey, here’s another way to think about it. Have you tried this, or have you done that?” Or it even does a third thing where, “Can I come see how that works? I want to come and do that. Can I just come by? Yeah, you can come by anytime.” As long as you’re civil and you’re not trying to, “Oh, GMOs are bad. Oh, this and that.” You’re not going to start a little protest. There might be a little bit of a buzzword there. But come out, see what we do.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. And that’s for a lot of people who aren’t around farming. That’s what they know is they know that controversy points. And yeah, we can all talk about that, and the pros, and cons, and everybody will take their positions. But you have a job to do every day. And it’s not just all about the controversial social media talking points.

Andrew Eddie:
No. And I think that’s the thing is, I think I’ve got to the point where I like showing what we’re doing. Some things, of course, I’m not going to show. I’m not going to show you my books. I’m not going to show you my-

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, shouldn’t be-

Andrew Eddie:
… things like that. Yeah. Going off on another rant apparently, just in my head right now is like, some people don’t like to tell how many acres they farm. I get it. You don’t want to sound like you’re, “Ooh,” some big old thing. But at the same time, who cares? If somebody asked me, “Hey, how many acres do you farm?” I’ll tell you.
It’s not a big head thing. You can be 10 acres or you can have 10,000 acres, it doesn’t really matter. How you handle yourself shows everything about who you are. If you’re 10,000 acres, and you act like you have 10,000 acres, and you’re better than the 10-acre farmer, then why? But everybody is the same.

Dillon Honcoop:
Some people feel like though the 10,000-acre farm can’t be good because it’s so huge, it’s unmanageable, and its lost touch with the human element. Is that true?

Andrew Eddie:
I’m going to put a little disclaimer in there and say it depends. It depends on who the farm is and what the farm is. But at the end of the day, we all have one goal, right? We want to grow something for the world. Real food real people, right? We want to grow something that makes a difference. We’re not here to harm the environment.
We’re not here to sway people and say, “Oh, you’re going to buy from our big corporate farm.” No. Everybody that works for that farm that makes it what it is, is a human. They do those things. They’re there. Are they making money? Sure. But it’s a business, so is everything else in this world.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, sometimes they’re making money.

Andrew Eddie:
Sometimes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Sometimes they’re losing money, back to your casino analogy.

Andrew Eddie:
Sometimes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, sometimes.

Andrew Eddie:
But I think that’s the biggest thing is like, and some people are like, “Oh, man, you spend a lot of time on social media, you spend a lot of time making marketing materials and things like that.” I go yes, because that’s what I like to do. But at the same time, it’s not to make it seem like farming is just this small little, like I said earlier, oh grow the crop. Yeah. It’s not just a bunch of backwoods people, it’s people.
And I think that’s the thing about farmers is the fact that you have to take and be an accountant, be a banker, be stuff like that, you got to be everything in order to make it work. So, I think that’s the biggest thing is, it’s not just somebody sitting there on a tractor. It’s not just a button a seat, it’s, if you’re going to be a grower and you’re going to be a farmer, you got to know how to do a wide range of things.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think people should know about what happens with growing their food or I guess in this case, food for their food, which is what you guys do, right? Grow hay for beef animal or a dairy animal that’s going to produce what they eat, once step removed. But regardless, people are concerned about where their food comes from, who are the people behind it?

Andrew Eddie:
I think they need to know that we try everything to get the product to be the best they can be for their animal or things like that. We do put herbicides down, we put fungicides down, we put all this other stuff, but they’re not harmful if they’re used in the correct way. We follow labels. We consult with our agronomist. We consult with our buyers and things like that.
We’re not doing anything intentionally to hurt an animal. So, another thing with alfalfa too, that can be a problem is if the nitrate levels are too high. So, nitrates are toxic to cows if they’re above a certain level. We pay attention to those. So, if we have a stack that test high nitrates, we’re going to be like, “Hey, I wouldn’t feed it to your cows, or I wouldn’t feed it to this, or I wouldn’t feed it to that, or in small amounts.”
We’re not intentional going through, and trying to cause issues, or like I said, ruin the environment or anything like that. We’re actually pretty good stewards of the land, whether we do no-till, or the fact that especially for us, all our forages are perennials. They come back every year. We don’t have to work the ground. We don’t have to do anything like that. It’s there.
We plan it once, we run it for three, four, five years. We’re going to have a Timothy stand that’s 12 years old. And we’ve never worked the ground. And that’s the thing is we’re conserving topsoil. We’re conserving nutrients. We’re conserving whole bunch of other stuff, and we’re doing less. We’re doing less, but producing more.
And I think that’s the biggest thing right now, especially as everybody is like, “Oh, there’s not enough crop, or this, or that.” Well, we’re producing more on a smaller amount due to herbicides, fungicides, all these chemicals that you’re saying, “Oh, well, they’re terrible.” They’re bad for you if you use them the wrong way. But we’re getting more out of less, and it’s not causing really too many issues.

Dillon Honcoop:
How important is soil health to the way you guys farm?

Andrew Eddie:
Soil health is huge. If we know how to soil health we know how to crop, right? So, that’s the biggest thing is soil health is probably one of the most important things that we deal with. Yeah, we can grow a crop, but if the soil is not right, we’re not doing ourselves any favors. We’re not doing the ground any favors. So, there’s a certain point of course that your return on investment for fertilizers or things like that.
There comes a point where you’re not going to be making any money, but if you can build up all that, then you’re in a good spot. You can take, and you’ll grow the crop, and you keep giving back, you keep giving it back, that it will keep growing a crop for you. You can sit and mine it out, you could. On lease contracts, sometimes people take and mine out all the nutrients, and don’t put them back.
And then, so the next grower has to come along, or the landowner has to come along, and try to build the soil back up where it was, and ends up costing an arm and a leg to do it. So, soil health is huge.

Dillon Honcoop:
It sounds like it’s not your philosophy to just take the nutrients that are there and run.

Andrew Eddie:
No. I will-

Dillon Honcoop:
it has to be more sustainable than that.

Andrew Eddie:
I will say sometimes it does happen. And it’s not on purpose. It’s not like we say, “Oh, we’re just going to screw this guy over.” That’s not our mantra. The biggest thing is getting it to produce where we can grow sustainable crop on it, and make money, and that’s the thing, or try to make money. I should say that. So, I think, yeah, it’s a toss-up too, because how much is too much?
And what is not enough? So, where’s that happy medium? Where can we be that we give back enough, but we also keep our costs in check, and can make it back with a crop that we’re growing for the stuff we’re putting in? Yeah. Soil is the basic thing that a plant needs to grow. One of the most important pieces, of course. So, if it doesn’t have a hospitable place to live, it’s not going to grow, and you’re not going to be happy.

Dillon Honcoop:
RNH Farms, what does that stand for?

Andrew Eddie:
Really Nice Hay.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. Or for 2020, it’s Really Nasty Hay. No, I’m just kidding. So, when we first started, it was Rock N’ Hay. So, we have a lot of rocks and we grow hay. So, it was Rock N’ Hay.

Dillon Honcoop:
But it sounds like rocks in the hay.

Andrew Eddie:
You got it.

Dillon Honcoop:
When you say that.

Andrew Eddie:
You got it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay.

Andrew Eddie:
So, we have some customers come back and say, “Yeah, is there rocks in the hay?” I’m going, “No, no, no, no, no.” So, we shortened it, we’re like RNH Farms, and we just came up with the joke like really nice hay, and depending on the year, really nasty hay, right? So, I always tell people that. I’m like, yeah, really nice hay. So, it could be, it’s double meaning, but we got away from the Rock N’ Hay because it just-

Dillon Honcoop:
Rock N as in it’s rockin’, like you rock this hay?

Andrew Eddie:
It’s like R-O-C-K, the letter N’ H-A-Y-.

Dillon Honcoop:
Got it.

Andrew Eddie:
So, literally, for a culture that is a direct, like they hear something and it’s a direct translation, it’s straightforward-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s true because you’re having people buy this from, speaking all different languages across the globe, and they’re like, “What are you talking?”

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. A direct translation is like, “Oh, rock and hay, oh, well, there’s rocks in it?” No, no, no, no, no, no, no, we hope not. But no. Yeah, the portion that we live in is very… there’s a lot of calcium deposits. We’ll just say that. No, there’s a lot of rocks, and we’ve picked our fair share amount of rocks to get it to be farmable. So, that was the first initial one that came up with.
And then, we phased that out into RNH Farms. And we’re working towards more and more advocacy for what we do and our brand. People are like we talked about, “Why do you spend so much money on marketing materials, or hats, or stuff like that?” I go, “Because it’s a brand that I want to grow.” That’s the thing is like, it’s a brand that I’m proud of. So, let’s grow it.

Dillon Honcoop:
It stands for something.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. It means something to me. So, where can I take that? What can I make that into? And I think that’s the marketing advertising side of my background is, it’s taking something and how do we build it? How do we build it up? How do we grow it? And it’s not just grow it just for the publicity, it’s not just grow it for anything like that. But it’s a recognizable thing.
And like I said earlier, some of the overseas buyers are like, “We want to see RNH Farms first. Do they have any good stuff?” We know that they make good stuff. And it’s just a sense of pride. It gets you to bubble up inside and be like, “Yeah, we made that.” And then, sometimes we got to tell them no. Guess not, we don’t have anything probably.
But the biggest thing, especially with the agricultural community is the fact that it’s built on relationships, and that’s the thing. And I think that’s one of the other things that I enjoy the most is its relationships, is building that community, and building that brain trust for what we got going on. So, you can pull from different places and be like, “Okay, well, this worked for him, let’s tweak it a little bit, and then we’ll try it.”
Or no, we’re never going to do that again, because it has never worked and this and that. The old mentality, the old farmer mentality is the fact that I tried it once. 25 years ago, it didn’t work. So, I’m never trying it again. And that’s the thing, and I get it. Everybody gets comfortable. It goes back to talking about being inside a comfort zone.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, but if you tried it that way 25 years ago and lost your shorts on it, you’d have a lot of motivation to not do that again.

Andrew Eddie:
Right. But you got to keep an open mind. But yeah, and that’s the thing is like, agriculture is constantly evolving, right? And one thing about agriculture that is interesting is the fact that tech is in agriculture. But it’s about four or five years behind, where tech is everywhere else. Grain and stuff like that, technology is through the roof. For forages, it’s there, but it’s not as prominent. So, that’s the-

Dillon Honcoop:
Why is that?

Andrew Eddie:
I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s just the fact that forages are the redheaded stepchild. I hate to do that little analogy, but that’s how it is. It’s just the backseat, but interestingly enough, so alfalfa is the number three top-grossing product in the world behind wheat and corn. It’s like, “Okay, well, why are we not getting more recognition?” Right?

Dillon Honcoop:
Exactly.

Andrew Eddie:
And if you actually look, so the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance puts together thing. So, the so the big five, so wheat, corn, soybeans, I think a tree fruit and something else, and then alfalfa. Out of those, the research funding for alfalfa is one-fifth the size of that for wheat, corn and soybeans. It’s like, “Why?” We’re up here.

Dillon Honcoop:
We need to get on that here in the state. And Washington is full of tech.

Andrew Eddie:
Right?

Dillon Honcoop:
Right. Hey, if anybody in Seattle who’s in tech is listening, and is looking for an opportunity where they could really be a game changer. Believe it or not, it could be in farming.

Andrew Eddie:
Well, probably a lot of people in that world don’t necessarily think of farming, just like a lot of farmers don’t necessarily think about tech. And I think that’s also one of the biggest challenges too is, especially in a smaller community is, people always question us like, “Why do you use GPS on your swatters? You can’t just sit there and drive.” I go, “We could.” But I go, even on our machines, we’ve cut down probably an hour or two, at least, of cutting time because we’re using GPS.

Dillon Honcoop:
How much fuel does that save then too?

Andrew Eddie:
A whole lot. Probably, 12 to 15 gallons an hour per machine. So, here we are. Operator fatigue goes down, the amount of money that you pay for labor, fuel, equipment costs, hours of depreciation on that piece of equipment. There’s a whole bunch of factors and the investment for it, sure, it’s a little costly upfront. But you start spreading that out and you’re like, “I got it figured it out.”

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s worth it.

Andrew Eddie:
It’s worth it, for sure. And so-

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s not just a cool thing to make sure your rows are perfectly straight.

Andrew Eddie:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because you guys are-

Andrew Eddie:
In all honesty.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re in circles, so-

Andrew Eddie:
But still, it’s a whole lot different when you look at, even when our guys go to a field, they’re like, “Hey, did somebody not cut this with GPS?” And I got no, they got to sit there and go back and forth. But even like-

Dillon Honcoop:
I planted corn through college. That’s how I paid my way through my university degree. And dug on it, I could plant some straight rows.

Andrew Eddie:
That’s right. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’d give those GPS guys a run for their money.

Andrew Eddie:
Okay.

Dillon Honcoop:
I know.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. I was going to say, “All right, let’s see what you got.”

Dillon Honcoop:
I’ve run GPS tractor enough a few times to know that.

Andrew Eddie:
Well, you can come out here again. We’ll have a part two of this from the cab, and we’ll see how you do. No. I think that’s the biggest thing is like, there’s a little bit of a disconnect between tech an ag overall as a whole, for forages, especially. I don’t know if it’s just because there’s not a big push.
So, I don’t know if there’s just a bunch of smaller growers that are like, “Oh, I don’t want to adapt tech, or I don’t want to do this, or I don’t want to cater to big tech.’ Well, guess what, you’re going to have to get it. I go, do you have an iPhone in your pocket?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
Well, then guess what, you’re already there. They know everything about you. So, it really don’t matter. So, I think there’s going to be a shift here the next little while that tech is going to be a bigger part. I just don’t know in what capacity.

Dillon Honcoop:
I remember a couple years ago, Knute Berger with Crosscut in Seattle, and KCTS public television came up to do an article on some farms in Whatcom County. So, I met with him, and we were hanging out, and I was taking them around to some farms.
And that was the thing that he said, once he saw the robotic milkers that dairies were using, and some of the GPS stuff, and things they were doing on improving potato varieties, and things like that, because they do seed potatoes back there. And he’s like, there needs to be more of a nexus between all of our tech community in Seattle, in the city, and what you guys are doing in farming. So, he was saying exactly the same thing.

Andrew Eddie:
But on the other hand, though, I’m wondering if it, it all comes down to money, right?

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s cost money.

Andrew Eddie:
That’s the thing.

Dillon Honcoop:
And it’s not like farming is high margin stuff.

Andrew Eddie:
Oh, yeah. No, we just make, yeah. I’m going to go home and hop in my Lexus.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, right.

Andrew Eddie:
Lexus is life. Anyway, my expenses say that’s how out of touch it is. It’s all driven by money, of course. So, yeah, you probably would be able to do it eventually. But when is it going to happen? There’s a lot of tech coming out that we could talk about, that I know a little bit about, that product guys know a little bit about, but it’s going to be a little bit before it gets here. It’s not going to be here instantly. It takes time. I get it.
Even we work with a software company that we keep track of all our stuff, and inputs, outputs, contracts, all this stuff. People are a little uptight about that situation to is like, “Oh, you’re working with them. It’s cost me a whole bunch of money.” Yeah, but guess what, it makes my workflow easier. And it gives me all my data that I want. I’m just a data nerd. So, I’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, I like numbers.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, then you can actually know what works and what doesn’t, based on changing your practices.

Andrew Eddie:
Right. And that’s the thing is like, I know where things are at. I know you got two styles of farmers. You got the super old farmers. They don’t have to be old in age, just old style.

Dillon Honcoop:
Old thinking, yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
Flip open their pocket, they would be like, “Oh, yeah, got it.” You got the new style, the younger generation, “Oh, let me just whip out my phone. Okay, got it.” It’s all right here, and I even run into that. Between me and my dad is like, “Hey, yeah, I got it on my phone. Well, why don’t you write it down on a piece of paper for me so I know.” And I’m like, “You’re going to lose a piece of paper.” I have my phone with me, yeah, I could crash. I could lose all of that. But it’s fine. It’s backed up to the cloud, right?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. So, smartphones have changed farming in so many-

Andrew Eddie:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
That would be a whole another episode to talk about even just-

Andrew Eddie:
Let me know. We’ll just talk about that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. No, I think it’s changing, but it’s also getting the mentality of we’re not just backwoods. Farmers are not dumb people. Don’t get me wrong. There’s certainly few.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, there’s dumb people anywhere you go.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. There’re dumb people everywhere, but you know what I mean? We’re not just backwoods fly by the seat of our pants like, just get it done. There’s actually a lot of thinking that goes into it. And I think that’s the biggest thing is people are like, “Oh, I didn’t realize that you had to cover the acreage four times.
I thought you just cut it once like wheat. Or I thought it was pretty easy. You just cut it. And then, a day later you’ll rake it, or a day later, you’ll bale it. You’d be done.” I even had a guy asked, he goes, “Well, did you bale this field all in the same direction?” And I’m going, “No, I go because there’s a pivot in the way.
So, we got to go opposite direction with two different machines, three different machines, whatever.” No. And some of the questions is like, “Okay, that’s pretty basic. Oh, it’s basic for me.” So, I think that’s the other biggest thing is I like sharing. As you can tell that I’ve talked this entire time.

Dillon Honcoop:
Certainly, that’s my gig.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, I know.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’ve been a professional talker for a long time.

Andrew Eddie:
So, keep farmers cooped up in the tractor [inaudible 00:33:53] for too long. This is what you get. So, that’s the other thing is with communicating about things is the fact that we can show, “Hey, here’s what we do. Here’s how things are different or similar.” But like we were talking about earlier is the fact that you can go from here, and go down the road to a different farmer about the same size.
They’ll do things some the same, some completely different. It all depends. But guess what, at the end of the day, we’re doing the same thing. We’re trying to run a business and grow a business. And I think the biggest thing especially is you run it as a business, but you’re also trying to keep the idea of being a family of people, even if your employees aren’t family.
If they worked for you for a long time. We’ve we have employees that have worked for us for 10 years. We’re all family. That’s the point. So, I think that’s the biggest thing, but yeah, it’s interesting. It’s an interesting world we live in, for sure. The agricultural world is definitely one big family.
And the last thing I want to touch on is yesterday, I was sitting at home, and I happen to see a post from another farm down in Nevada. And it was like, “Hey, we only get two shots at this. We growers get one shot, dry land guys get one shot.” Things like that. How are we adapting to what life is throwing at us?
Reach out to those people and be like, “Hey, how’s it going? How are you doing? I understand the weather is not good, but what’s going through your mind? How can I help you? Can I stop and say hi? Can I have a cup of coffee with you? Can I talk with you for two-and-a-half hours or however long we’ve been here?”
But I think it’s all just one big family. I think that’s the best thing is grow a community that you want to be a part of. Surround yourself by people that make you better. Don’t sit there, and just sit behind the screen, and “Oh, my life is terrible or this or that.” Spread joy. Don’t sit there and create drama. Spread joy. Make the world the way you want to see it. Make it a good place.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Thanks for sharing your story.

Andrew Eddie:
Oh, of course. Of course. Any time.

Dillon Honcoop:
I appreciate it.

Andrew Eddie:
Any time.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s pretty fascinating, all that goes into it. And I know we’re just scratching the surface.

Andrew Eddie:
Oh, we’re completely just scratching the surface. We could probably talk for another two, three, maybe four hours, hit that happy hour groove. But no, like I said, I enjoy telling the story. And it’s not just me. And that’s another thing is you see one person from somewhere, and especially on social media, you don’t get introduced to the person behind the camera too often. So, how do you share your story for how you fit in into the operation. I can’t do it all by myself. There’s no way.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, that’s why I’m going around the state to capture stories from people like yourself.

Andrew Eddie:
Right. Yeah. I think it’s big. It’s telling, telling your story, but also telling the story of what you’re doing, and where you’re at. What do you want to share about your operation, or your personal life, or things like that? It’s huge, and I think we have a good opportunity, but are we going to waste it?
And if people criticize the way you do things, or you just backlash and be like, “Oh, well, you’re dumb. You don’t know, you’ve never been on a farm.” No, hey, come out and see. I’m happy to talk to you. I’ll be civil. I’m not going to sit, and just be like, “Oh, well. You’re dumb.”

Dillon Honcoop:
They can reach you anytime on social media too, from wherever they are.

Andrew Eddie:
And that’s the thing is like-

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s your handle by the way to follow?

Andrew Eddie:
So, on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, it’s just RNH Farms. And then yeah, it’s good. It’s good. That’s the farm, and then the personal one is just andrew@rnhfarms on Twitter and Instagram, but I post more on the farm side. I treat that as my own personal showcase. So, yeah, it’s pretty good content, it’s good community, great stuff.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thanks for doing it.

Andrew Eddie:
Of course.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thanks for chatting.

Andrew Eddie:
Of course.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay. So, we talked a little bit earlier there about technology. Are any of you in the tech world looking for an opportunity, want to apply the skills, and the knowledge, and the experience you have to creating something that helps farmers grow food more efficiently, or better somehow? Reach out to me.
I can see if I can find somebody, and hook you up, and let’s get this conversation started. That’s what I feel here in Washington. This is such a huge opportunity that is, I think, in a lot of ways untapped. Since we have so much talent here in both the technology and the farming world. dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org is my email address.
So, if you have an idea, shoot me an email, or hit me up on social media. @rfrp_podcast is our Instagram handle, as well as our Twitter handle. rfrp.podcast on Facebook. So, follow all those, subscribe on YouTube as well. You can see this interview on YouTube and watch the whole thing.
We were recording there in a field if you could hear some of the background noise. We were just out in the middle of a hay field. And you can actually see what it looked like on the tailgate of Andrew’s truck when we did that conversation a few weeks ago. Thank you for being here and supporting the Real Food Real People podcast.
We certainly could use your support to help spread the word about the podcast, get more people subscribing, following along, as we try to grow this conversation to include as many people as possible. To reconnect our food system from those of us who eat, and those who grow the food that we eat, who are actually behind who grow it, process it, package it, truck it.
And we haven’t had a trucker yet on the podcast that. I should do that. Those people are a big part of our food system, and making sure we have something to eat, and keeping our food local rather than potentially shipped in from who knows where. Again, realfoodrealpeople.org is the website. I’m Dillon Honcoop, thank you so much for supporting and listening along.

Announcer:
The Real Food Real People podcast is sponsored in part by Save Family Farming, giving a voice to Washington’s farm families. Find them online at savefamilyfarming.org, and by Dairy Farmers of Washington, supporting Washington dairy farmers, connecting consumers to agriculture, and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at wadairy.org.

Andrew Eddie part 1 | #032 07/21/2020

When Andrew Eddie turned 18, he decided he wanted nothing to do with his family's Moses Lake hay farm. But with a few years away from home and a college degree under his belt, he began to see things differently.

Transcript

Andrew Eddie:
I reached a point where I was done. I didn’t want to farm. I thought farming was probably one of the worst things I could do.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Deciding to grow food, to become a farmer, is a huge decision for most people that do it, and this week’s guest definitely that’s a part of his story where he didn’t want to be a farmer even though he grew up around it. And you hear this so many times, people who grow up around farming and decide they are done with it, usually when they’re ready to go to college or something like that, and so many people then come back to it later and see it with different eyes. That’s the story of this week’s guest. He grows food, but not food that people eat. We’re going to jump into his world, which is hay. He grows hay to feed animals and his hay is shipped all over the world, but it’s grown here in Washington State in Moses Lake. Andrew Eddie is his name with RNH Farms.

Dillon Honcoop:
We had a great chat out in a field. We actually have a full video available if you want to follow us subscribe on YouTube, Real Food Real People. Just search us up on YouTube and you can see the full video because we have planes flying over, people driving by, wind blowing over our microphones because the whole interview was done on a pickup tailgate in a hay field, literally. So you can see that there if you want to. You’ll certainly hear that as you listen to our conversation. Some interruptions come up from time to time. Please enjoy. I’m Dillon Honcoop. This is the Real Food Real People Podcast, documenting my journeys across Washington State to hear from, and really get to know, the people behind our food here in Washington.

Dillon Honcoop:
So I’ve never done an interview in a field before.

Andrew Eddie:
Me either.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s this field that we’re in here.

Andrew Eddie:
Well, we’re in the corner of one of our alfalfa fields.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay.

Andrew Eddie:
Here in beautiful Moses Lake, Washington. It’s nice and sunny out today, I mean, minus a little bit of clouds. It’s a little dark right now, but about the first sunny day we’ve had in five, six days.

Dillon Honcoop:
You guys have been battling the weather.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. Mother Nature has definitely decided that she isn’t too happy. I don’t know if she just got cooped up with corona for too long, or what the deal is. But she decided she was going to make it known that she’s still around. She hasn’t left, so we’re rolling with the punches and we’ll see what happens.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you guys grow hay, is that pretty much it? You’re just a hay operation?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. We’re just a forage operation, so minus 100 acres of corn actually-

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay.

Andrew Eddie:
… that we just planted this year. We’re just using it as a rotational crop, just to give our soil a little break on alfalfa or grass. Yeah, we got about, minus the trucks driving by.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, just wave. Hey.

Andrew Eddie:
We’ve got probably about 1300 acres of total crop and that’s all forages. So technically, or not technically, we try to of course get the highest quality we can out of our crop, and most of it we shoot for export quality. So we try to make the best product that we can with what we got and where we’re set up. Yeah, that’s where that’s at.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what does export quality mean?

Andrew Eddie:
Export quality is just, I mean, kind of the … It all varies. I mean, exporters take a wide variety of stuff. There’s a need for supreme, premium, feeder, dairy. It depends on what they’re looking for. so it’s broad, but we just try of course for the highest quality. I mean, most everybody tries for the highest quality, but like we were talking about earlier is about 95% of our product goes for export compared to some guys that just shoot for the domestic market like local retail sales, or anything like that. Our biggest thing is we take it, we sell it to an exporter and they ship it overseas to wherever their customers are, what they need.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what happens to that hay then?

Andrew Eddie:
So after we put it in the stack, or put it into a bale, put it in the stack, they will come and buy it, haul it into their pressing facility. There’s a bunch of pressing facilities located in Ellensburg, which is about an hour and change away from here, or there’s some local pressers here, or Tri-City’s. Just all around the state. So they’ll take it, they’ll press it down to whatever package the customer wants and then they’ll put it in a shipping container and ship it where it needs to go. So whether that’s Japan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, China. I mean, pretty much all over the world.

Dillon Honcoop:
So pressing it that’s like you take … I think people are familiar with a hay bale.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. Yep.

Dillon Honcoop:
You know? And there’s small bales. I think that’s what most people would be familiar with, which are like yay-

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, yay big. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
And then there’s little bit bigger ones than that. There’s also big bales like actually you’re on the balers right behind the camera, so people can’t see that.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
But so which ones are you actually … And they take bales and just squish them down that much farther?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. There’s actually a bunch of different packages that they can do. So they’ll take a three foot by four foot by eight foot long bale and compress it down. They can do a half cut, a sleeve bale. They can do a double compressed, a single compressed. I mean, there’s a ton of different package that they can do to get it done to … For the most part most of it will go about to a package about yay big, which is I think a 50kg package and they’ll stack them all in the shipping containers, and then that’s how they get it over there. So, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What are all these planes flying around here? Good grief.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. We’re pretty close to the airport and the military enjoys flying over and interrupting super important interviews that are happening right now.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay. I see.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So they hear when a podcast is happening.

Andrew Eddie:
That’s right, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, they hear when you’re trying to sleep. They hear when important stuff’s happening, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
They quick scramble some cargo planes-

Andrew Eddie:
That’s right. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
… to interrupt.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, yeah. No, so all kidding aside. No they fly around all day, every day so we actually get to see some pretty cool stuff.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
Fighter jets flew over earlier today and nothing says America more like some fighter jets flying over. But yeah, it is all dependent on what the overseas customer wants for a package and it all depends on what they’re using it for too.

Dillon Honcoop:
So those bales that you’re squeezing down how much do they weigh?

Andrew Eddie:
Initially?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
So when we get them in our bales they can be anywhere from, I don’t know, probably a little over a 1,000 pounds to 1300 pounds, 1400 pounds. It all depends on the crop.

Dillon Honcoop:
Over a half ton of hay.

Andrew Eddie:
Yep, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
And then, they squeeze that down into … What’s the smallest that they can squeeze that down into?

Andrew Eddie:
Oh, man. You’re asking me a bunch of tough questions. I probably should know this.

Dillon Honcoop:
Just roughly. Roughly.

Andrew Eddie:
If any of our buyers watch this I’m sorry, like I apologize. I’ve been doing this long enough I probably should know, but today’s one of those days. I think the smallest package is probably a 50 kilogram.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay.

Andrew Eddie:
I think.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay, so they actually break the bales up into smaller pieces?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, so what they’ll actually do is so they’ll take the bale, they’ll cut all the strings off of it, they’ll put it into their thing and they’ll slice it, and then they’ll take it and put it in the press and hydraulic [inaudible 00:08:16] and push it all together. It pops out and it’s magical. It’s magic. Nobody knows how it works.

Dillon Honcoop:
And then they feed it to their animals wherever they are in the world.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, yeah. And then they’ll take and like I said put it in a shipping container and that’s what they do.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what’s the key to making really good animal feed hay?

Andrew Eddie:
Mother Nature cooperating in the best way possible. It all depends. I mean, weather’s a big thing, nutrition’s a big thing. Just paying attention to what you got for crops. Paying attention to water and fertilizer, nutrient plants, things like that and just management is pretty much the biggest thing. And then, hopefully Mother Nature plays nice with you.

Dillon Honcoop:
So a lot of your nutrients for your hay actually comes from manure?

Andrew Eddie:
They can. It all depends. It all depends on the grower’s program too.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
I mean, there’s something to be said about manure, especially for alfalfa or things like that. Dry fertilizer, liquid fertilizer is the general thing. But that’s where that comes from, so. Or liquid manure, some people do that too.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
It all depends on grower preference. Everyone has what works for them.

Dillon Honcoop:
So the manure that you would fertilize the crops with comes from where?

Andrew Eddie:
It depends on where you get it from. I mean, there’s a bunch of dairies up here if you want liquid manure. There’s also a bunch of feed lots, so we can get screened steer manure for pretty readily available. So again, it all depends on who, and what, and why, and what the price is.

Dillon Honcoop:
And then, irrigation too. You’ve got to water all these-

Andrew Eddie:
Yep.

Dillon Honcoop:
… alfalfa and grasses that you grow.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, so luckily for us we’re on the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. So we have surface water available so we can go up and fire on a switch, get the pivots going, and we’re good to go. You know? We do have some wheel lines, we’ve got some hand lines, but nothing too major. It’s pretty nice to be able to flip it on and just have consistent water all the way across.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. That’s a lot better than hand lines, which-

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
… for people who aren’t familiar with that, and I learned that at a young age, the joy of changing hand line, which is the actual pipes and you pick them up one 20 or 30 foot pipe at a time. Move it over however many feet you’re going, 30 feet. Whatever the next section of the mainline is from the riser if that makes sense to anybody. I don’t know, but that’s a lot work. I’m surprised you guys still, what? Is that just if you have a corner of a field or something you can’t get?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, we actually just have one field that is just like two corners that we water with hand lines and then I think we have two or three sets of wheel lines, which is the same concept except luckily it has a motor on it so you can roll it, you know?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yep, exactly.

Andrew Eddie:
Roll it and park it, but pivots. I mean, because the other thing about pivots is they’re efficient. So they’re efficient on water. They’re efficient on water pattern and they cover ground. One thing about pivots, one downfall is, there’s a little more to fix.

Dillon Honcoop:
So pivots are these things that if you’re flying over farm country you see the circles?

Andrew Eddie:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
And that’s where people talk about farming a circle?

Andrew Eddie:
Yep.

Dillon Honcoop:
Then the irrigation basically the water comes up in the middle of the circle and then there’s the big framework that goes out with all the sprinklers on it and it just goes around?

Andrew Eddie:
Yep, yep.

Dillon Honcoop:
How long does it take for one of those to go around a circle?

Andrew Eddie:
It all depends. I mean, if it were to go full hog on a 130 acres, I mean it all depends on machine too. Say just a standard pivot could take seven hours, six hours to go 130 acres all the way around, complete revolution. But it all depends on now there’s different gear boxes too. So different gear boxes, different center drives that you could actually make. There’s one company that actually makes center drives and gear boxes that actually doubles the speed, it’s constantly moving. So it can actually cover, when normally it’d take seven hours, it’d cover it in four.

Dillon Honcoop:
So they don’t normally constantly move? So they move a little bit, sprinkle and then move a little bit more and keep going around the circle?

Andrew Eddie:
They still move, but it’s all in succession. So the end tower is the lead tower, takes off and second one follows and then it’ll stop for a little bit, let it all catch back up and stay in a line.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay, so the pieces move separately out-

Andrew Eddie:
Yes, yeah. Out on the end. So technically your last tower moves further than your first tower because that runs through the center point.

Dillon Honcoop:
When you’re driving by you see way more water coming out of the outside sprinklers oftentimes than the inside ones.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah and it also has more ground to cover too. So, the inside ones have less, so the nozzles are smaller because they don’t need to put as much water down. So, you’re outside ones are going to be a whole lot, put a whole lot more water down in that span.

Dillon Honcoop:
This is all new to me because I grew up around farming, but it was in western Washington and we don’t do that there.

Andrew Eddie:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
I mean there are just a few pivots over on that side of the mountain.

Andrew Eddie:
Right. Mother Nature cooperates with you guys, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, and the fields are way smaller too, right?

Andrew Eddie:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
And so people will use hand line or wheel line or big guns or drip irrigation or yeah, just hope and pray for rain at the right time and not the wrong time.

Andrew Eddie:
Right, right. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So is that, growing hay, is that the biggest challenge is just trying to get the rain when you want it and the dry, hot weather? That’s what you need to dry the hay out after you cut it right?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah I mean I’d say that’s probably about 92% of the challenge is just weather. I mean it can take a good crop and turn it into pretty bad, pretty quick. So-

Dillon Honcoop:
So what does it do to it?

Andrew Eddie:
So for alfalfa especially, it’ll take and if it rains on it enough it’ll actually start washing nutrients out of it. So not only will it start bleaching it and cause it to lose color which is a portion of how customers buy it, it’ll actually start washing the nutrients out of the plant. So your RFV will go down, your digestible nutrients will go down. All that stuff that buyers or dairies want to see is that nutrient value.

Dillon Honcoop:
Most nutrition for their animals to eat.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. So it takes away on that. On grass, especially on Timothy. So Timothy is very … It’s bought on color. A little bit on feed value depending on where it goes and stuff like that. But it’s primarily bought on color and look and things like that. So you get a little bit of rain on it and here we are. You’re turning into a product where it’s automatically a lower grade and it can go from premium to number one, number two quality in a matter of a couple hours.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Andrew Eddie:
So, a little shot of rain, it depends.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the value difference, percentage wise? How much money can you lose in a couple hours with the wrong rain?

Andrew Eddie:
You could lose probably about 50%. So, about half its value you could just sit there and watch as it trickles off the windshield and yeah. It all depends. Everything has a home, but everything has a home for a certain price too.

Dillon Honcoop:
When I was a kid both of my grandpas, well grandparents because they both ran the farms, grandpa and grandma, they had dairy farms. My one grandpa in particular, my dad’s dad, was very much into feeding his cows alfalfa, almost exclusively other than other nutrients. But he didn’t do silage or local hay or anything. He got eastern Washington alfalfa from here and he would come out and look at the field and he wanted to know that he was getting the best stuff for his cows. This is where he would come. You talk about Timothy though, what are they feeding with Timothy? That’s not going to be for dairy cows right?

Andrew Eddie:
Ah, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
It can be?

Andrew Eddie:
It can be, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Part of their TMR?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, they-

Dillon Honcoop:
Their milk retention.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah they’ll take and put it in their mixed ration. A lot of dairies in China will take it, Japan things like that. But, Timothy has a wide use.

Dillon Honcoop:
I think of feeding horses when I think of Timothy.

Andrew Eddie:
Right, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s my experience with it.

Andrew Eddie:
Horses, race horses are the biggest. Everybody is like, “Oh, they feed it to race horses.” That’s correct, but they also feed it to camels, guinea pigs, gerbils, anything like that. Any animal they’ll eat it. I mean it’s pretty good. Yeah that’s … It all depends. Like I said it all depends on what customer is taking it and then how they want to use it and things like that.

Dillon Honcoop:
So have you gotten the chance to visit any if these customers out around the globe?

Andrew Eddie:
No, no.

Dillon Honcoop:
Where the hay goes to? That would be, I think that would be really fascinating.

Andrew Eddie:
No, so seguing into that. So currently we’re part of the Washington State Hay Growers Association as you might be able to tell behind me. Shameless plug, it’s fine. So I’m current Vice President and then our current President actually went overseas here last year and visited a bunch of the dairies and stuff and things like that. So, at some point that’ll probably be on the docket maybe once all this … Maybe 2021, ’22, ’25 who knows when this corona deal gets over.

Dillon Honcoop:
So some day you’ll get to go see it?

Andrew Eddie:
Some day. But yeah, no and we’ve been doing this awhile. So we’ve met some of the customers when they come here and they’ll say, “Oh, yeah we like your guy’s product or we like this or we like that. Can we see that?” So that makes us feel good because we’re like okay we have repeat customers. Not just people buying directly from us, but people that are buying through us technically.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right. I always thought that it was impressive that my grandpa would come all the way … dairy farmer from western Washington would come all the way over to eastern Washington to check out his hay. A little bit more impressive if you come all the way say from China to check out your hay.

Andrew Eddie:
Right, right.

Dillon Honcoop:
But I guess that’s how important it is to them to get good quality. It’s worth the trip.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, yeah. No, and they take and they trust the buyers. They trust the exporters on what products they’re getting them. But they also like to come put eyes on it because things change when you actually put eyes on it. You can send pictures, you can make it look pretty. But at the end of the day if you put eyes on it and you’re like, “Oh, I don’t really like this part of the bale or I don’t really like that head size or I don’t like … there’s not enough leaf. There’s too much stem. They’re super thin, they’re brittle.” I mean there’s a million things that they can pick apart and be like, “Well we want it for this price” or “Oh, this looks really good we want it for a little higher.”

Dillon Honcoop:
They’ll actually say that?

Andrew Eddie:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
We hope they say it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. You’re probably going to come in and say, “Hey this is awesome hay. Here’s the price.” They’re going to say, “Will you take 25% less than that?” You’ll be like, “Hm.” How much negotiating goes on with this stuff?

Andrew Eddie:
The exporters sit there constantly and negotiate about it. They’ll offer it out and they’ll see what they say and they’ll do probably three or four counter offers and see what happens. I mean it all depends. We just sold some today that they offered out a couple times and three or four, five negotiations. Middle of the night because time difference.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, true. True.

Andrew Eddie:
They’re like, “Hey here’s what we got. This is the product, here’s where we need to be at. Here’s where my grower needs to be at. Here’s where I need to be at to make some money. Here’s where you got to be.” See if it fits in where they’re thinking.

Dillon Honcoop:
So how many acres are you guys growing hay on?

Andrew Eddie:
We have 1300 acres and then we do another probably 1300 acres worth of custom work. So total for last year we covered probably 8500 acres for the entire year-

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Andrew Eddie:
… after all four cuttings of alfalfa, two cuttings of Timothy.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right, going over those same acres.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So customer work meaning what?

Andrew Eddie:
We just, we go and we work with another custom guy and we’ll actually go cut and then he’ll rake it and bale it. The farm that has the ground doesn’t have the equipment to do it.

Dillon Honcoop:
I see.

Andrew Eddie:
So they just contract hired out and we go and do that.

Dillon Honcoop:
So that’s half of the acres you cover is custom work?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Andrew Eddie:
Yep pretty much. It varies a little bit depending on what their rotation’s at. But for the most part that’s where we’re at. So, yeah. It keeps us busy. If the machine’s not rolling, it’s not paying for itself.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s true.

Andrew Eddie:
So employees aren’t cheap. Labor’s not cheap, fuel’s not cheap. Equipment definitely isn’t cheap. So, you got to supplement a little bit. But it also keeps, definitely keeps us busy.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did you guys get into this?

Andrew Eddie:
Farming as a whole?

Dillon Honcoop:
Or hay farming specifically? Did you not always do hay farming? Or what’s the family background?

Andrew Eddie:
So family background, technically I say I’m second generation hay farmer.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
My grandpa he had the ground, he used to work odd jobs. I mean he did anything and everything. He was a fireman, he was a lumberjack, he was a quality control specialist somewhere. I mean he’s done a multitude of things and he ended up with farm ground. So he farmed a little bit. But my dad pretty much started the place. But, he used to work for another hay grower here in the local area and he worked for him for 25 years. Then things just weren’t working out, so he decided hey I’m going to try to go do this on my own. So like I said my grandpa had some ground and my dad said, “Hey I want to start farming.” So they started with about 200 acres, pretty much where we’re sitting at right now. Since then, and that was probably 12 years ago, 11 years ago, and since then we’ve grown from 200 acres to 13, 1400.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Andrew Eddie:
With five or six employees probably by the time you get through everything. So, yeah it was pretty much my dad. He’s been around hay for a long time. So, I mean he’s been around hay for, I’ll do some quick mental math. It would be 34 years he’s been around hay. 34, 35.

Dillon Honcoop:
When did you start farming?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah so born into it, so that’s always good. They say the biggest challenge with family farming is putting up with your family. You love your family, you do. But it takes a special nutcase to want to willingly and come and work together, right? You butt heads every once in a while, 95% of the time. But, you make it work. So, I was working here just summers and stuff like that doing normal farm tasks and things like that. Then I reached a point where I was done. I didn’t want to farm. I thought farming was probably one of the worst things I could do, which is bad to say because-

Dillon Honcoop:
Really. The wind is blowing our microphone over.

Andrew Eddie:
Here, we’ll do that. So, I was like, “No I can’t do this. I can’t work with family. I’m not going to farm. I don’t like it. It’s terrible.” Blah, blah, blah.

Dillon Honcoop:
This was when you were how old?

Andrew Eddie:
I was about 18.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
So it was time.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s a key time to be making some decisions.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah so I was like, “I’m going to go do something else.” My parents were supportive and they were like, “Okay yeah do what you want.” So I applied to go to school at the University of Oregon in Eugene and took them about a month and a half to get back to me and I had a couple other offers, a couple other places to do random things. I thought I was going to do engineering and thought I was going to do this and then realized that’s a whole lot of math and a whole lot of thinking that my brain couldn’t handle.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m not smart enough for that.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s for sure. I’ll be the first to admit.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, so I’m like, “No, let’s not do that.” So I waited and waited and waited. Got into the University of Oregon, didn’t know what I wanted to do. Went down there, had two years left. I had already gotten my Associate’s Degree from a local community college and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I got down there, I ended up signing up for some journalism classes and I was literally sitting in, I think it was a 201 class, so basic first introductory class that was media studies. I’m sitting there and I’m going, “This advertising thing is not too bad. It looks pretty good.” So I was like, “You know what, I’m going for it.” So I ended up getting a degree in journalism communications with an emphasis in advertising. Then it got down to trying to find jobs. Pretty much everybody I went to school with got jobs at Nike, big old ad agencies, all this other stuff. I’m just like-

Dillon Honcoop:
They’re in Oregon too, so yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah I’m like, “Here I am, what do I want to do?” I was like, “All right well I’ll go back to the farm. Shouldn’t be too bad.” I got back here and I’m like, “Why did I leave?”

Dillon Honcoop:
Really? It was that apparent?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah and don’t get me wrong I enjoy the whole advertising world. I enjoy all that stuff. But, I think-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah you got a fan club. That guy has driven by multiple times and he wants to watch the podcast I guess.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah the boss is driving around wondering what I’m doing.

Dillon Honcoop:
That guy is the boss man? Aka, your dad?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, I didn’t recognize him.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah. So, no I left and that was that. So, I came back and I’m like, “This is what I want to do. I enjoy growing crop and I enjoy doing this and I enjoy doing that. So let’s make it happen.” Ever since then I’ve been back.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what did your dad say?

Andrew Eddie:
He didn’t say much.

Dillon Honcoop:
And he was happy to have you come join the operation?

Andrew Eddie:
Oh, yeah. Yeah he was happy. The first couple of years were a little rough. We’re just getting back into hey I went off and did this, so I know.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yep.

Andrew Eddie:
Not really completely, but it was just one of those deals where it’s like how about we do it this way? How about we do it that way? Now we’re at a decent spot. We’re getting along a whole lot better. We make things work a whole lot better because we do have different views on how to do things or we do have different thought processes when doing something. So, I think that’s one of the biggest things. But I’ll tell anybody that if you’re wanting to farm, especially with family or anything, go do something else and come back because you learn a lot more when you’re gone than when you’re there. I think if you stick around, and this is with any job, wise words of wisdom with Andrew today.

Andrew Eddie:
But, I think this is with any job is the fact that you get in a comfort zone. You get in a comfort zone in your life. You get in a comfort zone with your job so you’re like, “Well I don’t have to change anything.” Then you get out there and you experience different things. You experience different people and how they do things to get a certain task done. And you’re like, “Hey I’m going to try that. Why don’t I think about that?” So I think getting somebody out of their comfort zone is the biggest thing for sure. So, I think now the boss is staring at me. I think that’s the biggest thing is get out of your comfort zone. I think you learn more out of your comfort zone than you do in it. That’s the biggest thing.

Dillon Honcoop:
Anything specifically that you take away from your education that changes maybe how you do your work now? I mean people think, “Wow that’s a far cry from a communications degree.”

Andrew Eddie:
Right. No I think it’s shifting too. I think the push now is especially is being active on social media and things like that and showing our story. We’re not just some, well I tell you what we big old farmers here. We’re actually doing a job that takes a whole lot more than okay let it grow. Even when I was explaining it earlier it’s like, “Well we just put water on it. We put fertilizer on it, it’s done.” It’s a little more than that. Somebody can do it, but it all depends on how and what. So, no I think the biggest thing is yeah, it’s communication is of course the backbone of pretty much anything. I mean communication is the backbone of … as the wind picks up a little bit.

Dillon Honcoop:
Hey but you hay people, you love wind right?

Andrew Eddie:
I’m loving it right now.

Dillon Honcoop:
Isn’t this what makes your hay awesome?

Andrew Eddie:
For sure, yeah. No, I think communication of course is the backbone of anything. Relationships, negotiations for buyers, anything like that or even relationships with [inaudible 00:31:00] or things like that. So, it all comes down to it. But the biggest thing, especially with social media, is the fact that we have the opportunity and platform to share our story, right? So, that’s the biggest thing for me is it’s allowing us as an operation to showcase, “Hey here’s what we do. We’re not saying it’s perfect, we’re not saying it’s the best thing ever. We’re not saying we’re absolutely right. But, here’s what we do, here’s why we do it and here’s our thought process.” Maybe somebody else will take it or maybe somebody else will be like, “Hey why don’t you try this or have you ever tried this?” Things like that. I’ll have growers reach out and be like, “Hey what do you normally put down on your Timothy or what are trying on your alfalfa that looks really good?” Things like that.

Andrew Eddie:
It gives me a certain sense of pride and it gives us, well not so much the social media mogul over there that searched Twitter all day. But, it gives me a certain sense of pride because it’s like hey here’s what we’re doing somebody is recognizing, “Hey that’s pretty sweet. I think we can do something.” So I think yeah, it just gives … It’s a whole new avenue. We can market it in a different way and say, “Here’s what we got. Here’s showing you the inner workings of an alfalfa operation or a forage operation.” So I think that’s cool. It’s a challenge for sure. Here last week it was just raining, that was it. It was raining and that takes a big old blow to our ego and our confidence because I mean we are losing money. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s not as tough as some of these other growers like potato contracts that are currently, were cut at the beginning of the year and things like that. They’re the ones that are suffering super a lot.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
So that was my point is I know we show all the good stuff, but we’re also human and we make mistakes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah you had a good video post about that on Instagram.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah it was one of those days where you just had to let it out, you know what I mean? You had to talk to somebody and if there’s nobody to talk to that wants to listen you just talk to yourself, right?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
So I think that’s the biggest thing is yeah it’s tough, but we’ll recover and there’s some growers out there that it is a big hit. They can absorb some of these things. You start talking losing 100, 200 bucks a ton. Well probably about 100 bucks a ton. That’s a big deal. I mean at the end of the day that’s a lot of money that we’re talking about. I’ve even talked to some potato growers in the local area and one of the guys goes, “I just put $4,000 an acre into potato ground and I have to plant sweet corn or beans or peas and I’m not going to make a single penny back from what I already put into it.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah he’s not going to be able to make as much as they had already spent on it.

Andrew Eddie:
No. Yeah and he goes, “That’s what I have to do. How am I going to make it work? I have no idea, but that’s what it is.” So we get a little bit of rain, yeah it’s a punch in the gut for sure. But, especially when it’s some of the best looking stuff that we had, that was ready to go right before it rained. But yeah, I think yeah it’s-

Dillon Honcoop:
Well I thought your post was on point not just about farming, but about anybody on social media. That’s the phenomenon.

Andrew Eddie:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
Everybody just shows the best part of their life.

Andrew Eddie:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
So it makes everybody else feel like, “Oh, my life sucks.”

Andrew Eddie:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
But the reality is everybody has a lot of crappy stuff in life.

Andrew Eddie:
100% and that’s the thing is yeah. I think that’s one of the biggest, what’s the word I’m looking for? That’s one of the biggest drawbacks of social media, but it’s also one of the biggest points that we can start to address is the fact that it may look all pretty and nice and the other side of the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
You might want to start digging a little deeper and I think that’s my point is we make mistakes. We’re not perfect. We have misapplication on chemical or our crop doesn’t grow or anything like that, it happens. Or Mother Nature kicks us in the butt and says, “You were feeling good. Yeah here you are. Here’s a little slice of humble pie.” So, I think social media is a double edge sword for sure and I think the biggest challenge … nobody wants to share the bad stuff. Nobody wants to say, “Hey I messed up.” It’s as simple as that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well they’re worried, number one they don’t want to look dumb.

Andrew Eddie:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
And number two, I mean if you’re doing business you’re worried that your customers are going to be like, “I don’t know if I trust them anymore.”

Andrew Eddie:
Right, but I think that’s the biggest thing is closing that gap between where customers and us are at and getting people closer. The thing about it is even some of our overseas customers they were like, “Oh, well we’ve never actually seen alfalfa go on the bale. How does that work?” I’m like, “Here’s some videos.” Technology and all that stuff is great nowadays. You couldn’t do that in the past. I mean you could, but you’d have you know.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well and as far as admitting to things not going perfectly with our generation, that’s what we’re into. We almost don’t trust somebody where things are too perfect.

Andrew Eddie:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s like that’s got to be fake.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah, or that’s not actual reality. What is reality?

Dillon Honcoop:
Reality is doing a podcast and having wind pick up-

Andrew Eddie:
That’s right.

Dillon Honcoop:
… and jets fly over and people drive by.

Andrew Eddie:
That’s right.

Dillon Honcoop:
And people call you on the phone.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah and the boss working on equipment behind you is what you get.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s reality.

Andrew Eddie:
Back of the pickup’s dirty. I mean a whole bunch of stuff. But I think that’s the biggest thing is I’ve had people say, “Hey, thanks. Thanks for sharing the bad.” I go, “It’s not even close to being terrible. I can sit here and complain all day about what goes wrong, but you look at other things in the world and you’re like my life ain’t that bad.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Well that you said it earlier and now you’re saying it again and that’s something that farmers are really good at and it goes along with that farmer optimism, it’s that well things could be worse vibe.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah until-

Dillon Honcoop:
Farmers have to do that otherwise you couldn’t survive.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah we’re the biggest pessimists you’ve ever met in your life, no joke. We’ll look at something we’ll be like, “Oh, man that’s probably the worst quality stuff I’ve ever put up in my life.”

Dillon Honcoop:
But you’re still an optimist because you’re going to try for it.

Andrew Eddie:
But, we’ll be like, “Oh, that’s terrible quality.” Then someone will come by and be like, “That’s probably the best stuff I’ve looked at so far.” You’re like, “All right, cool.” You can be an optimist and you’ll end up being fine. But that’s the thing is you reach a point where yeah, it kicks you in the shorts and you’re like, “I just want to go home and cry.” I mean it’s fine if you go home and cry it’s no big deal. But, it’s also one of those deals where it’s like what can we do about it? There’s nothing we can do about Mother Nature. If it’s something that we messed up we can fix it. Mother Nature comes through it’s out of our control. I mean you can sit there and say however Hail Mary’s you want but it ain’t going to matter about what’s going on. So the biggest thing especially this year is predictability on weather. There hasn’t been any. It’s been either 10% chance and it rains or it’s 70% chance and it’s sunny. It all depends.

Dillon Honcoop:
Such is the way of farming.

Andrew Eddie:
Such is the way of farming.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s been the hardest time for you so far farming? What’s the most challenging thing?

Andrew Eddie:
Oh, man. I mean one of the most challenging things is of course trying to juggle home life and farm life. That’s the biggest thing.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
We put in long hours. Farmers put in long hours. Dairy guys put in long hours. Things like that. It’s balancing how much you’re working and how much you’re at home. Also for me, so my wife works at the hospital. She’s a labor and delivery nurse. So she’ll work nights and I work days.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yep never see each other.

Andrew Eddie:
Never see each other and when she’s working I’m not working and shen she’s not working I’m working. So we got two kids at home so that’s the biggest thing. I take them out and be like, “Hey we’re going to go check. We’re going to go drive around.” Gets them out of the house but it’s also like-

Dillon Honcoop:
Daddy daycare in a pickup.

Andrew Eddie:
I got to go work. Here’s some fruit snacks, we’ll turn on some Frozen and we’ll be fine. But I’ve listened to my fair share of Frozen in this truck here. But it’s really sad when you’re off topic a little bit, when we’re driving around and the kids aren’t in the truck and the Frozen is still playing and you don’t notice. You’re like, “I really hope nobody pulls up. Let’s turn on some ACDC.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah a little awkward the farmer guy shows up and you’re listening to Frozen.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah I mean it happens.

Dillon Honcoop:
If it was from my household it would be Bubble Guppies or Paw Patrol or something like that.

Andrew Eddie:
Perfect, yeah probably mine too, yeah. Yeah, no my kid yeah. My kid definitely enjoys.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well I grew up on the seat of a tractor myself. My dad was a custom farmer when I was quite young.

Andrew Eddie:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
So I’d ride along with dad until he was doing something that was too rough to have a little kid. If he was ripping some rough ground or something with the tractor it was like, “Okay mom is going to come pick you up. You got to get out now.”

Andrew Eddie:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
I don’t want you to whack your head on the steering wheel. Obviously older tractor, less room. No actual buddy seat. It was just fold the armrest down and the old 4240.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah the fender of the tractor making sure you don’t slip off onto the tire, yeah. Been there, yeah I’ve been there many times with my dad. I think that’s the biggest thing is my wife and I talk a whole bunch. I try to get home as readily as I can. I try to balance that life. It is absolutely probably one of the hardest things I deal with. Getting our guys to do whatever and getting equipment fixed and things like that. I mean I hate to say it’s easy, but it’s just a thing we do now. It’s a process for sure. So, yeah I think the biggest things is just finding that time.

Dillon Honcoop:
And your busiest time is in the summertime when everybody else in the world thinks that’s when we should be going on vacation.

Andrew Eddie:
Right. Right, right.

Dillon Honcoop:
That was my growing up too.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I grew up on a red raspberry farm. You harvest raspberries in July. You do not do anything else.

Andrew Eddie:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you certainly don’t even mention going on vacation because that would be blasphemy.

Andrew Eddie:
No, no yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Even though you can get vacations in between cuttings.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Maybe, sometimes.

Andrew Eddie:
We can get … we can sneak away for a little while. I mean going on vacation next week, but that’s beside the point. We were planning on being done for full disclaimer, not that it really matters. But one of the biggest things is that everybody is like, “Oh, well you just take the weekend off right?” Sure I could.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right.

Andrew Eddie:
But everything is still going to be growing. It don’t matter. If the weather’s right we’re doing it. We’re going, we’re farming. Simple as that. I think the best description and I think most people have probably seen this floating around is the dad and the son like, “Oh, what is this?” “Oh, I don’t know son.” Well it’s the same thing with farming is like, “Hey dad what’s a weekend?” “I don’t know son we’re farmers.” That’s probably the best description I have because that’s the way it is. 4th of July, what is holidays right? What are weekends? People are like, “Oh, yeah did you make it there?” What day is it? Oh, Saturday well no.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, sorry.

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah and then you know-

Dillon Honcoop:
I saw it on social media the next day.

Andrew Eddie:
Right? Yeah, well and then you get to the point where you’re working for a couple days straight, pretty much you leave your house, go to work, go back, sleep a little bit and come back. You’re like, “Did I take a shower today? What did I do today?” They’ll be like, “Oh, it’s Thursday.” You’re like, “I was working since Monday, what are you talking about?” So it’s just the concept of time with farming is one of the craziest things too because it’s like okay, what day is it? What time is it? What are we going to do?

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the longest day you’ve worked?

Andrew Eddie:
Recently about two hours. Just kidding, jokes. Oh, shoot probably we’ve had like last year we had a couple … If the weather’s right, actually probably 2018 was probably one of the longer ones we had some days 14, 16 hours and then we’d get down baling probably get out there and start raking at about 4:00, 4:30 in the morning. Take a little break, start baling, get down at about 10:30, 11 o’clock at night and go back about two or three the next morning. Do that for a couple days and I mean, it’s not too bad. I don’t envy the people that do night shift and have to work 12 hours on, 12 hours off and stuff like that. No, no those people, like my wife is a saint. Yeah, managing that and trying to sleep during the day. I’m just like I don’t know how you do it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah that’s a tough job.

Andrew Eddie:
Some days are long, some days are short, it all depends. I mean and yeah it varies too. That’s the thing. I think that’s the biggest thing is people going back to the comment about what’s a weekend or can’t you just take a day off? Well yeah, but it’s also like it’s our livelihood. So if we don’t go now, we’re not making money and we’re not making money why are we even doing it? I mean to be honest with you it’s fun, but we don’t do it just for fun. If you did it just for fun, what’s the point?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Andrew Eddie:
I mean if you had a bunch of money to blow, don’t get me wrong then it would be fun. But pretty much every business you want the business to succeed. So how do you do that? You put in the time and the effort and the hard work.

Dillon Honcoop:
Sure would be a lot less stressful if money wasn’t an option huh?

Andrew Eddie:
Yeah if the bank roll was just rolling through, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
That way if you made a bad decision it wouldn’t be like, “I may lose the farm over this.”

Andrew Eddie:
But on the contrary though, even if it was bank roll and you afforded it, when you start growing a crop and you get it down and it starts getting ruined, you’re like yeah okay now I’m losing money. It’s just like going to the casino, same thing right? It’s like I won 400 bucks and then you’re like, oh never mind. I just lost all of that $400 because I wanted to play for another 20 minutes. It’s the same deal. It’s all a big gamble and a crapshoot for what’s going on. You try everything in your power to get it done right and then one thing comes through and ruins it.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
Next week on the podcast we’re going to finish the conversation with Andrew. There’s so much more about technology and about family and struggles and his story on the farm and coming back to the farm. This is the Real Food Real People Podcast. I’m Dillon Honcoop and I’m really glad that you have joined us here. I’d really appreciate it if you subscribed to the podcast on your favorite podcast platform. I just noticed maybe on one of the platforms that it wasn’t working right. So please, let me know if you’re experiencing any issues and I can get to work oh that. Dillon@RealFoodRealPeople.org and Dillon is spelled D-I-L-L-O-N @RealFoodRealPeople.org. Send me a message, let me know and I can get techy smart people, smarter than me figuring any issues out if you have any trouble subscribing or anything like that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Of course RealFoodRealPeople.org is the website and you can follow us on Twitter and on Instagram and on Facebook. We’d really appreciate it and again, like I mentioned earlier you can watch this whole episode on YouTube as well. We’re working on getting more stuff on YouTube. I’m learning the whole video thing as we go here, just making it up and making mistakes and learning from my mistakes. So check us out on YouTube. Subscribe there too, that would really help us out. And again next week is more with Andrew Eddie of RNH Farms, hay farmer in Moses Lake, Washington. Thank you again for being here.

Announcer:
The Real Food Real People Podcast is sponsored in part by Save Family Farming. Giving a voice to Washington’s farm families, find them online at savefamilyfarming.org and by dairy farmers of Washington, supporting Washington dairy farmers, connecting consumers to agriculture and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at WAdairy.org.